Nearly 258 million ha (28%) of the United States is publicly owned land that is managed by federal government agencies. For example, the US Department of Agriculture's Forest Service (USFS) manages over 77 million ha of national forests and grasslands for the benefit of the American public. Given its legal directive to manage multiple uses, it is not surprising that conflicts arise among stakeholders over how this land should be used (Lansky, 1992). The USFS has much discretion in how land is managed, yet must often balance conflicting values of public use and benefit (Nie, 2004). As national priorities, social preferences and public awareness of national forest goods, services and values have changed over time, USFS managers have faced increased pressure to balance consumptive uses with the need for environmental protection. Competing stakeholder demands coupled with increased environmental risks (wildfires, tree diseases and insect epidemics) have resulted in an escalating conservation conflict that is manifested in administrative appeals, lawsuits and a growing distrust of the agency.
Over time, the USFS has embraced new directions and management paradigms to reduce conflict. Some of these have been ecosystem management, adaptive management and now collaborative management (e.g. Holling, 1978; Maser, 1988; Franklin, 1992; Boyce and Haney, 1997; Wondolleck and Yaffee, 2000; Brown et al., 2004). These approaches reflect changing societal values, political pressures and new scientific information.
A persistent conflict has been the logging of trees in national forests and related impacts on forest ecosystems (Lansky, 1992). The USFS’ timber sale programme has supported jobs and community stability through economic development. Logging has also been a mechanism to reduce the risk of wildfire by reducing tree density (fuel for fires) and vertical stand diversity (‘ladder’ fuels; North et al., 2009). However, logging can also negatively affect forest integrity, watershed quality, wildlife, aesthetic and spiritual values of forests (Satterfield, 2002; North et al., 2009).