One Forest at a Time: Providing Technical Assistance for Community Based Natural Resources Management

This project during 2006 through 2008 provided technical assistance for sustainable forestry and watershed practitioners and related policy makers. Funding provided to CEED by the Ford Foundation and the National Forest Foundation which allowed for concentrated technical assistance efforts, under the able guidance of Madrone Enterprises. This is a summary of lessons learned.

Shared Energy and Enthusiasm toward Project Successes

Groups deal with barriers, setbacks, and challenges every day. Technical Assistance is most effective if provided with enthusiasm to help folks catalyze new efforts and to add energy to existing ones. In these times of mistrust and disenchantment, helping folks to be hopeful and to see some simple steps to success is critical. Steering folks away from risky development towards projects with a high likelihood of success increases their momentum. As groups stabilize their base, taking on riskier projects becomes more possible.

Technical Assistance requires Humility

Another lesson learned is that the most effective technical assistance occurs when folks ask for help. Otherwise it is interference. If practitioners are clear about their needs, then technical assistance can be tailored to their needs, not someone's agenda. True assistance requires humility and respect for the local culture, players, and issues. It helps to honestly assess needs and possible sources of assistance. A good deal of personal "ego-system management" should accompany this effort. "Be humble, be of help"!

Technical Assistance in Fiscal Capacity

Most groups know that funding is a critical issue, but few know how to effectively deal with it. Tremendous resources are wasted in risky development efforts. This leads to a high failure rate among Community Based Natural Resource Management groups and burn out for their employees. Consequently it may be crucial to spend more time on fiscal capacity building than any other specific topic. Technical Assistance should focus on how to cover program costs, project costs, overhead costs, and weighted rates. This focus gives groups a better chance to do more work in the future.

Train the Trainers

While help is needed all over the country, it is most cost-effectively done at the local or regional level. Working at a national level requires travel, expense and time, leaving limited resources for hands-on technical assistance. The most effective help at the national level is to work in a concentrated way with a few groups over longer periods to build their capacity to become the trainers for their region. It is from the local and regional grass roots that effective change springs, eventually affecting state and national policies and funding priorities.

Diverse Focus is Useful

Groups with a narrow focus have greater difficulty building capacity and struggle to fund and sustain their efforts. Unlike a specialty product in a unique niche, there may not be a market for some projects, because they are innovative, creating change, and helping new industries emerge. At this level the work includes advocacy and often seeks to protect public trust resources like air, water, and soil. Groups providing diverse services fare better in research and development phases. A diversity of funding sources is another trademark of stability, and focusing broadly on public as well as private lands, urban as well as rural seems to give groups more buffer as funding opportunities change.

Focused Local Efforts as well as National Movements

We need focused efforts as well as large national networks and movements. Many Community Based Forestry (CBF) efforts are critically focused on Public Lands in the West and neighboring communities to public lands. But that can only take us so far. There are many private forests in America as well. A diverse CBNRM brings a whole suite of individuals and landowners to the table more focused on land stewardship. For local and regional groups, fear of being swallowed up by urban programs or national environmental groups prevents collaboration in large national coalitions. It is time to get out of these rural shells and build the bridges, networks, and coalitions that will bring an effective voice for lasting change. Now is the time and we are the people.