21 October 2014 Science Briefs

SNAMP Pub #32: UC plays a crucial facilitating role in the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project

Article Title: UC plays a crucial facilitating role in the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project

Authors: Adriana Sulak, Lynn Huntsinger and Susan Kocher

Research Highlights:

  • Shared understandings: There is strong agreement across survey participants that the SNAMP process promotes learning, a crucial building block for shared understandings.

  • Shared decision-making: There are two major kinds of decision-making within SNAMP, decisions about research made by the Science Team, and decisions about management made by the Forest Service. Both groups have strong constraints on sharing decision-making with stakeholders. These limitations were made clear to all at the outset of the project and the majority of respondents still valued the learning opportunities, open discussions, face-to-face interactions with scientists and felt “part of the project”.

  • Closing the adaptive management loop: To deepen relationships, increase stakeholder input into the project, and allow opportunity for face to face interactions with scientists on specific topics, integration meetings, with agency, Science Team, and public participants, evolved in the third year of SNAMP. These meetings were held for each team each year with the goal of collaboratively addressing the transition between scientific results and management action.


Controversy stemming from uncertainty about the environmental consequences of forest fuels treatments limits US Forest Service implementation of these treatments over large swaths of the state of California. This led the Forest Service, the California Resources Agency, and the University of California (UC) to work together to develop an adaptive management project for fuels management called the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP) that incorporates the public into the study of the impacts of treatments.

In this paper we report results of a 2010 email survey assessing who participates in SNAMP, what their different perspectives are, and what they believe they are getting out of the process. We conclude with issues that have emerged as central to SNAMP participation: the potential for social learning and shared decision-making, and the completion of the adaptive management cycle with the transfer of what has been learned to future management.

Survey Methods:

The email contacts maintained by University of California Cooperative Extension to promote SNAMP events and update stakeholders were invited to respond to a web-based survey in summer 2010. The list is comprised of individuals who wanted to keep informed about SNAMP progress, or who had attended SNAMP events. Of the 647 people on the email list at the time, after 4 prompts, 168 people filled the survey, for a 26% response rate. This is similar to return rates for other email surveys. Survey respondents are representative only of contacts interested in the project, and inferential statistics are not applied.


The survey asked respondents what they were getting from the SNAMP process. The vast majority felt that participation was worth their time and meetings were well organized and facilitated. There was strong agreement that SNAMP facilitated learning, and that discussions between participants and presenters were encouraged and conducted in an open and informal manner with enough face-to-face contact with scientists and managers. Most agreed that they felt part of the project and that they were listened to by researchers. Around half agreed SNAMP was improving relationships and increasing trust. The sentiment that the SNAMP process was building consensus, though not an explicit goal of the project, was shared by over one third of respondents. However, there was a substantial group of survey participants who “didn’t know” if relationships were improving, consensus was being reached, or trust was being developed at the time of the survey.

More than 80% of respondents showed shared understandings that forest resilience, ecological processes, diversity, and regular, natural fires were indicators of forest health. More than half agreed that a healthy forest should sustainably produce timber and have well-spaced trees without debris build-up. Important to more than one third were matching historical conditions and having Native American stewardship. Over a fifth of respondents agreed that the term “forest health” has political connotations, and less than 10% agreed that a forest is healthy when “people do not use it.”


The Science Team cannot fully “co-conduct” research, and the Forest Service cannot “co-manage” the forest: the public’s role is constrained by the scientist’s adherence to perceived scientific norms, and the Forest Service’s legal responsibility for decisions. SNAMP participants remain concerned about the future use of research results but report increases in shared learning and understanding. More exploration is needed of the capacity of the University of California or other third parties, as independent research and/or providers, to replace or mitigate a lack of trust and consensus, and an imbalance of power, between the public and the agency, and among stakeholder groups.

Full Reference:

Sulak, A., L. Huntsinger, and S. Kocher. 2015. UC plays a crucial facilitating role in the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project. California agriculture 69(1): 43-49.

The location of the full paper is here.

For more information about the SNAMP project and the Public Participation Team, please see: http://snamp.cnr.berkeley.edu and http://snamp.cnr.berkeley.edu/teams/public-participation.

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