Making the Forest a Factory: The Nature of Sustained Yield Forestry in New Mexico

Grants and Contracts Details


The proposed study examines the social and ecological ramifications of the Vallecitos Federal Sustained Yield Unit in northern New Mexico. Sustained yield units are intended to produce local economic benefits by offering non-competitive timber sales to operators who agree to hire only local labor. In the case of northern New Mexico, forest rangers established the Unit in 1948 arguing that sustained yield forestry would improve local livelihoods and restore overgrazed ranges. Preliminary research indicates that neither outcome has occurred. The study investigates the intractable environmental conflict that has emerged as a result ofthe Unit. The unfulfilled promise of sustainedyield has pit environmental groups against the forest service based on ecological grounds, and local Hispano organizations against the forest service based on economic grounds. Without a resolution to this lengthy conflict, it appears likely the entrenched positions and legal battles of various stakeholders will continue to impact ecosystem structure and function in a way that remains highly threatening to biodiversity and local economic livelihoods. The proposed study draws on diverse ecological and political ecological research on forests and forest ecosystems which recognize that efforts to restore and protect critical habitats and produce local economic benefits require understanding not only institutional and political structures and processes, but also complex ecological processes. The study is situated within two broad bodies of research: 1) Ecological research on forest and montane rangeland environments, and 2) political ecology research on forest resource use, control and conflicts. Recent research in ecology, range science, and conservation geography posit that specific types of human interventions in ecosystem processes serve to benefit ecological and economic outcomes. The proposed research is an extended, multi-method study accomplished in three stages. In stage 1, archival research methods will be deployed to reconstruct the historical ecology prior to federal lands management, as well as to understand the economic and political dimensions of the changes wrought by sustained yield forestry. In stage 2, ethnographic and ecological research of current agricultural practices during the 2005 growing season will provide data to evaluate the spatial and ecological practices of agropastoralism and the conservation possibilities of agropastoralism in support of biodiversity. In stage 3, semi-structured interviews with land grant heirs and activists, federal lands managers, environmental activists, and former and current loggers in the area will provide data to answer research questions related to current conflict over resource management. The proposed study makes two specific impacts with broad social significance. First, research on socio-spatial processes producing ecological change could serve as a framework for alternative development strategies based on local agrodiversity production that may offer significant positive outcomes both for local economic futures and the ecological health of the rangelands and ponderosa pine forests of the region. Second, ethnographic research and ecological monitoring that identifies effective management alternatives could overcome a recent history of intractable environmental conflict in the region. These alternatives could accomplish what, under current management and production arrangements, appear to be the contradictory goals of local economic benefits and ecological sustainability. Such a transformation could serve as a new environmental consensus on federal lands management based both on principles of social justice and environmental ethics. The intellectual merit ofthe proposed research is two-fold. First, the project engages ecological theories of ecosystem functioning and social theories of human-environment interaction. By speaking across disciplinary boundaries, the project will contribute to recent theoretical extensions in ecology that recognize the benefits to biodiversity of socially-produced agricultural landscapes. Second, the project will add to empirical research in land grant studies, as well as in human-environment studies in geography that explore the social and ecological services provided by agrodiversity.
Effective start/end date3/15/0510/31/06


  • National Science Foundation: $9,500.00


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