World Rainforest Movement

Community Forestry in the United States: A Growing Movement

Recently some forty locally based community practitioners, academics, graduate students, and NGO heads (see and for more information) met for four days at the Federation of Southern Co-operatives ( ) in Epes, Alabama, USA, in order to discuss trends in community forestry (CF) and community-based ecosystem management (CBEM) in the United States. The annual gathering serves as the keystone meeting of the Community Forestry Research Fellowships Program for graduate students involved in CF in the United States, and receives support through the Ford Foundation
( ).

A cornerstone of the program requires that potential student fellows establish and maintain a collaborative relationship with a local community organization in their study area. This obligation points to a central tenet of the Program: the role of participatory action research (PAR) in undertaking collaborative research in CF in order to effect social change. (A search through Google using “participatory action research” as the topic will link you to many useful websites on PAR).

The projects of the graduate student fellows provide the focal point of discussion and collaboration on CF. This year’s research topics again ranged across the four kinds of lands in which CF can and should take place in the United States: publicly owned and administered lands, private lands, Native American lands, and urban lands. Topics also covered a representative regional focus of CF concerns in the United States.

This year’s topics demonstrated the range of concerns that CF examines. Of particular interest were projects that are examining race relations, temporary guest workers, and the invisibility of some communities. A second topic examined the relationships between poverty and industrial forest extraction, a relationship summed up by participating professor in the compelling question: why do trees cause poverty? Three papers dealt explicitly with social networks in resource access and management. And, as part of a “New Directions” session, two papers demonstrated how rigorous science can serve the social-movement dimension that has long been the foundation of CF and social change. Woman, health, and access to resources and the need to use history in CF rounded out the presentations.

These papers and the presentations by graduate fellows and their community partners provided the framework for more extensive discussions. Recurring themes during the four-day workshop included issues of power, access and control in the context of multi-stakeholder environmental governance, the role of place, identity and access (who is in place and who is out of place), the roots of boundaries and mistrust, and again, race relations and invisible communities.

The Community Forestry Research Fellows Program continues to serve as a key dimension to the growing network of CF practitioners, policy makers and analysts, and researchers in the United States. Readers are invited to visit the web sites mentioned in this summary, and to contact the author for more information
( ). You may also contact Dr. Carl Wilmsen, Program Director for the Community Forestry Research Fellows Program ( ).

By John Isom, Ph.D. Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison; e-mail: