Why Won’t They Come? Stakeholder Perspectives on Collaborative National Forest Planning by Participation Level
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Collaboration has taken root in national forest planning, providing expanded opportunities for stakeholder participation in decision-making, but are these processes considered meaningful by key stakeholders? Do the processes result in increased participation by key stakeholders? We present results of a study of stakeholder perspectives of a collaborative planning process on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests in Western Colorado, U.S.A. The stakeholders were stratified by participation levels in order to explore a possible relationship between participation and perceptions of the collaborative process. We used a Q-methodology approach to compare and contrast perspectives across participant levels in the North Fork Valley Landscape Working Group process. The results demonstrate four distinct perspectives on the collaborative process: 1) The collaborative process is valued by the Forest Service and will directly influence planning decisions; 2) The Forest Service, the collaborative process, and other stakeholders are not to be trusted; 3) The collaborative process is most effective when emphasizing place-specific dialogue that primarily involves stakeholders educating the Forest Service about issues; and 4) Forest planning involves issues requiring the application of scientific knowledge and expertise rather than collaboration. These perspectives were not strongly associated with participation levels, with time constraint being the primary mediating factor affecting participation. There are several possible actions policymakers and planners can take to enhance participation and overcome high rates of nonparticipation.