Positioning scientists as relevant and respectful partners in forest restoration

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Elizabeth King

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Scientists can play different roles as collaborative partners in the process of ecological restoration, two of which are building knowledge of ecological dynamics and developing tools to support land stewards’ decision-making. In each role, the positionality and mode of engagement between scientists and stakeholders will shape the outcomes of the process. We describe an ongoing collaboration between an interdisciplinary team of scientists and a group of stakeholders who are all stewards of globally rare Maritime Live Oak (MLO) forests in the southeastern United States yet have different stances on the appropriateness of various forest restoration strategies.  Invoking principles from structured decision-making (SDM) and participatory action research (PAR), we focus on our methodologies for appreciating stewards’ perspectives and values, which were adopted to strengthen the relevance of our contributions while also avoiding a hegemonic position in the partnership. We have used interviews, workshops, and field research partnerships to engage stakeholders as sources, co-producers, and target recipients of ecological knowledge. To build a decision-support tool for MLO forest restoration, we first sought to understand stewards’ multiple restoration objectives and specific decision contexts to help ensure that the tool would deliver the kind of information and support they would value. With that established, together we compiled a suite of foreseeable management options and assessed the data needs and uncertainties associated with each. SDM and PAR offer complementary notions for building relevant and respectful partnerships, yet require creativity, humility, and intentionality on the part of scientists in crafting engagement activities with stakeholders.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

Society for Ecological Restoration