University of California

California forest policy must bend toward the new social order


Jeff Romm

Author Affiliations

J. Romm is Professor and Chair, Resource Institutions, Policy and Management, College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley.

Publication Information

Hilgardia 54(2):35-42. DOI:10.3733/ca.v054n02p35. March 2000.

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The template for California's forest policies emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, a time of increasing federal power, global expansion and hard social distinctions. Of the state's 2 million or so people, few were eligible to vote and fewer still were interested in forests. Forest policy was the arena of a relatively small group. Today a similar, relatively small group controls California forests, but the political base for their control is eroding. California's diverse and democratic society of 35 million people no longer conforms to the wishes of any forest elite, be it scientific, governmental, industrial or environmental. Yet the state's forest elites continue to arm-wrestle as though the old social structure still held. California citizens, meanwhile, have organized hundreds of watershed groups in neighborhoods and communities statewide, supporting goals such as salmon recovery, urban access and local economic opportunity. These actions represent a massive spontaneous change in political culture. The simple choices of 25 or 50 years ago, of preservation versus use, public versus private, no longer encompass the interests of California's population. By 2025, a highly diversified landscape of forest institutions, management techniques and ecological conditions will soften current jurisdictional distinctions. The people who come to the table to discuss forest policy will no longer be just the elites who shaped forest policy in the 20th century. Whether we are better off or not will depend on how aggressively the state pursues the innovations necessary to sustain cohesive and resilient forest systems serving larger public interests.


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Romm J. 2000. California forest policy must bend toward the new social order. Hilgardia 54(2):35-42. DOI:10.3733/ca.v054n02p35
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