Humboldt Journal of Social Relations


There has been a recent increase in use of an organized, forest ‘collaborative’ group approach for multi-stakeholder input on federal forestlands in the U.S. West. This approach relies on the creation of shared trust to achieve social agreement. Yet growing critiques suggest a lack of trust in the U.S. Forest Service [Forest Service], between stakeholders, and the collaborative process itself. We conducted three comparative case studies of established forest collaborative groups in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to ask how trust is created and damaged or broken in this context. We found multiple, interlinked dimensions to trust, including significant reliance on procedural trust, trust of ‘in-groups’ who shared norms for conduct, and distrust of new participants. We also found that trust or distrust in the Forest Service affected other trust and process dynamics within groups. Our research offers new insights into the functions and limitations of a collaborative approach that is increasingly central to federal forest governance; and new empirical knowledge toward recent theoretical developments about trust in natural resource collaboration.

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