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Understanding micro-processes of institutionalization: stewardship contracting and national forest management

Abstract

This paper examines micro-processes of institutionalization, using the case of stewardship contracting within the US Forest Service. Our basic premise is that, until a new policy becomes an everyday practice among local actors, it will not become institutionalized at the macro-scale. We find that micro-processes of institutionalization are driven by a mixture of large-scale institutional dynamics and how frontline decision-makers understand and interpret these dynamics, given the local social and ecological context in which they operate. For example, this paper suggests that a new policy may become institutionalized when it is understood to solve problems that old institutions at once create and demand to be solved. Agency actors cannot be conceptualized as untethered from the institutions in which they operate. Yet, within larger institutional dynamics, field personnel make key choices about whether to adopt a new policy, making them important players in the micro-processes of policy institutionalization. The interplay of actors and institutions turns agencies, such as the Forest Service, into complex systems that cannot be understood as artifacts of their own history or as a sum of the decisions of individual actors. This dynamic also implies that macro-level institutional change will be uneven, incomplete, and gradual, mirroring uneven, contingent micro-level processes.

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Notes

  1. This law also applies to the Bureau of Land Management.

  2. For an explanation of how the federal budget process works, see Schick 2000 and Tomkin 1998. The Forest Service budget and associated justification can be found at http://www.fs.fed.us/aboutus/budget/.

  3. We heard this repeatedly from our interviewees.

  4. Knutson-Vandenberg (K–V) funds are obtained from timber sale receipts and can be used to pay for a variety of forest protection, improvement, and restoration activities in the timber sale area; to maintain biological diversity there; and to protect and improve other resource values on timber sale areas, including wildlife, soil, watershed, range and recreation values (Forest Service Handbook 6509.11 g, Chapter 70).

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Acknowledgments

This paper was made possible with National Fire Plan funding from the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, the Ford Foundation, and the University of Oregon. We appreciate the assistance of Melissa Poe, Kate MacFarland, Emily Jane Davis, Alaina Pomeroy, and all of the people who spoke with us about stewardship contracting. We particularly appreciate the early involvement of Ellen Donoghue in this project.

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Correspondence to Cassandra Moseley.

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Moseley, C., Charnley, S. Understanding micro-processes of institutionalization: stewardship contracting and national forest management. Policy Sci 47, 69–98 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-013-9190-1

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Keywords

  • Policy implementation
  • Political change
  • Institutions
  • Institutionalism
  • Stewardship contracting
  • Forest Service
  • Actors