More than half of the North American continent was covered with forests when European explorers and colonists first established permanent settlements, and for centuries the forests seemed inexhaustible. In this context of seemingly limitless land, abundant timber resources, and ongoing westward expansion, the United States began a farsighted experiment—holding vast tracts of undeveloped land as public property and managing them under federal and state authority for the benefit of all citizens (for details, see Wilkinson and Anderson 1987). This experiment, bold in scope and visionary in concept, has retained forest cover over most of these lands, despite overzealous exploitation that liquidated virtually all southwestern old-growth forests and that degraded forest conditions in much of the region (Behan 2001). Yet on the whole, the public lands experiment in the United States has been a conservation success. Most of the National Forest System lands remain in a semi-natural state, in contrast to productive private forests, which have largely been converted to agroforestry. Moreover, citizens retain a powerful voice in how public forest lands are managed.

Sustaining public engagement in the twenty-first century, with an ever-more politicized planning and management process, has placed increasing pressure on efforts to engender meaningful public engagement and pursue science-based management. In some cases, public involvement has been tokenized, with perfunctory meetings and comment periods, whereas the battle between local and national interests has become heated, nasty, and sometimes even violent (e.g., Durbin 1999). Yet the long-term success of the public forest experiment depends on rekindling and sustaining the public engagement that has guided forest management through intense controversies involving clearcutting, road-building, conservation of endangered species, and privatization, to name only a few points of recent dispute. Though messy, this public engagement in forest management, ranging in form from written comments to high-profile litigation, provides critical input into the workings of federal and state bureaucracies charged with managing forests in the public interest.

This input is particularly important when scientific uncertainty and conflicting values cloud decisionmaking. In an era of rapidly growing human populations and increasing demands on forest ecosystems, the resolution of emerging conflicts demands increased public access to the best science, and a process for engaging a broad range of citizens in science-based discourse (Sarewitz 2004). This challenge—to make science accessible and practical—has been undertaken in different forms across the continent. In this chapter, we offer a case study from the semiarid Southwest, where the threat of wildfire has focused public attention and engendered bitter debate about the future of public forests and how they will be managed.

After providing background information on our case study in Section 4.2, we present the what and the how of knowledge transfer in forest landscape ecology as it applies to our project: what was transferred, including data, models, analytical and statistical tools, and collaborative processes (Section 4.3). In Section 4.4, we examine how the project was designed for effective transfer via a multiyear dialog that developed trust among collaborators and that allowed meaningful engagement when the scientific tools were ready to support a more focused public process. We also review the implementation of specific transfer mechanisms through several planning processes, including the knowledge transfer related to the Western Mogollon Plateau Adaptive Landscape Assessment, which brought together more than 100 forest managers, scientists, public officials, and engaged citizens in a series of workshops to carry out the assessment. Finally, we summarize the lessons learned (Section 4.5) to help others who may wish to undertake similar endeavors.

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