Community Forestry, or Not?


A new buzzword phrase appears to making the rounds in the natural resource policy world. The phrase is “social license”. I wasn’t sure what the phrase meant, so I looked it up on where else…Google. Here is what I found. Apparently it originally came to mean the unwritten approval that a corporation needed to gain from a local community to operate in that community.

Today, it appears to have been broadened to refer to acceptance by society, where that society is nonlocal. And, it isn’t limited to corporations. Now, the term has entered public land policy discussions. My first reaction was somewhat cynical, thinking that it was another academically led attempt to create a sub-sub-sub field or published-based reputation by inventing new jargon to describe something we all knew. But actually it seems more to be an attempt to restore the glory days of foresters in charge of forests, this time producing trees to fuel the bio-fuel revolution.

As one rather truculent and perceptive Forest Service friend told me, social license means “letting foresters do what they used to do, in the role they used to have”. I wonder if this isn’t a mistake. We have moved away from the Older Days of trained professionals who “knew best” how to manage our natural resources. Instead we have seen a thousand collaborative experiments, of talk of “civic environmentalism” or building “civic capacity” where these projects involve those who are willing to do the back breaking work of trying to build a community’s resiliency for problem solving. In fact, we might go so far as to argue that a whole lot of expert/professionals licenses have been revoked socially because this is a different era with different problems, solvable by those with a certain attitude and mindset, rather than the right “license” to make decisions. Let’s see how this plays out.