Santa Barbara County and Los Padres National Forest:
Facilitating Community Collaboration in Recreation Management
Project Objective and Approach
This project sought to assist the Forest Service and community stakeholders in the transition from traditional public involvement methods, to a more collaborative-based approach for recreation management in Los Padres National Forest. To accomplish this, a handbook ("Collaborator's Handbook") was developed to provide both forest managers and community members with the necessary tools, process steps, and reference information necessary to allow issues to be successfully addressed in a collaborative manner. Additionally, key community organizations and Forest Service personnel were brought together in a workshop setting to develop an action plan for further integrating the community in the decision-making process.
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Los Padres National Forest is the third largest national forest in California and occupies the coastal mountain ranges from the Ventura/Los Angeles County border through the Big Sur coast in Monterrey County. The forest provides essential watersheds, unique flora and fauna, and a wide variety of recreational opportunities. Due to many years of budget cuts, it has become increasingly difficult for the Forest Service to meet recreational demands while maintaining forest resources. The Forest Service recognizes that involving the community more in recreation management may alleviate the lack of funds and personnel. A collaborative approach, in which local stakeholders and forest managers work together to address forest issues, helps build trust between participants, generates a larger base for forest stewardship by allowing community members more say in forest decisions, and improves the quality of decisions made by pooling knowledge, ideas, and viewpoints in the process.
This project sought to help the Forest Service increase the Santa Barbara County community’s involvement and interest in recreation management by developing a handbook that contains the tools, process steps, and reference information necessary to guide a successful collaborative process. To assess the public’s willingness for involvement in forest management, the project team conducted a survey of three target groups: a random sampling of residents of Santa Barbara County, forest users, and community members previously involved with Los Padres National Forest. Additionally, collaborative efforts addressing natural resource issues throughout the United States were researched, contacted, and compiled into 22 case studies designed to provide concrete examples from which local collaborators may learn. The survey results and case summaries were combined with a guideline of process steps and a collection of useful tools into a handbook specifically designed to ease transition to a more community-managed national forest. To initiate the collaborative efforts, the team facilitated a workshop between Forest Service personnel and board members of a key community organization (Los Padres Forest Association) to discuss each party’s goals for collaboration, assess available resources, and develop a plan of action for further integration of the public into the management of Los Padres. As the most appropriate convener of collaborative efforts concerning the forest, Los Padres Forest Association will take ownership of the handbook and begin introducing it to various community organizations with an interest in forest management issues.