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Meredith Jacobson is a Master’s student in the Forest, Ecosystems and Society Department of OSU’s College of Forestry who studies collaborative partnerships in forest management. She describes her thesis work here at Oregon State as a qualitative case study on the concept of “Anchor Forests”, an idea developed by the Intertribal Timber Council that would involve creating large regions of forest management and stewardship, collaborating across ownership boundaries. Within this brief statement, there’s a lot to unpack.

Early in her undergraduate experience in forestry at UC Berkeley, Meredith became interested in how to engage communities in managing their natural resources. After working a few seasons in the field, she wanted to find a way to combine her interest in social justice with her love of forests. So she came to OSU to study collaborative forest governance. As she gained exposure to this field under the guidance of her advisors Dr. Reem Hajjar and Dr. Emily Jane Davis, she soon learned that a lot of work needs to be done to make collaboration more effective, equitable, and just. She also found that most models of forest collaboration are not doing a good job engaging with Native communities, the original stewards of the land. 

Meredith then learned about the Intertribal Timber Council’s vision for Anchor Forests, which proposes that Tribes are uniquely positioned to be leaders and conveners of cross-boundary forest management. Core to the Anchor Forest concept is a need to generate long-term commitments on the part of many landowners to actively manage land, in order to sustain investments for infrastructure like sawmills while creating healthy and wildfire-resilient landscapes. Early in her time at OSU, Meredith had the opportunity to speak with leaders involved in developing the Anchor Forest concept, who expressed to her that while Anchor Forests have not been fully implemented on the ground, the vision holds a lot of potential. From these conversations, she developed a project intended to document why this idea emerged, what it could be used for in the future, and how we might learn from it.

The Intertribal Timber Council released an Executive Summary of the Anchor Forest Pilot Project in 2016, which studied a group of pilot communities in central and eastern Washington. Around this time, a couple journal articles were published and Evergreen Magazine released a video series about Anchor Forests. Meredith hopes that her work can generate more conversation at OSU and in the field of collaborative forest governance about the potential of this concept and vision.

Diving into this topic, Meredith has found it to be more complicated than meets the eye. There are logistical, institutional, and social barriers to making an idea like this work. Her data collection has included interviewing those involved in developing the Anchor Forest concept, analyzing published documents and reports, and looking at online media coverage of Tribal forest policies and laws that could enable the cross-boundary work needed to make Anchor Forests happen. Through her analysis, she wants to understand what is unique about this concept and what barriers need to be overcome to realize its potential. She’s also looking at what types of narratives or stories are used to portray Tribes as effective leaders and land stewards.

Meredith says that one of the most interesting things she’s learned so far is that among the ten people she’s talked to, there has not been one unified perspective on what makes the Anchor Forest idea unique and what hope it holds for the future. 

“I think that this reflects how this idea takes different shapes and meanings depending on the local context where it would be implemented. With a concept as broad as this, it’s important to remember that every community has its own distinct history, ecology, and economy. And every Tribe is unique in their culture, values, needs, and interests, but non-Native folks tend to overlook that."

Perhaps this is why the concept itself is so difficult to define. However, one common theme emerging from land managers across the West: that shifting leadership and power to Tribes could be a critical part of the solution to increasingly urgent challenges like wildfire affecting forests on a landscape scale.

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