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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Parks Stewardship Forum

UC Berkeley


Parks Stewardship Forum delivers interdisciplinary information and problem-solving techniques across all topics relevant to the world’s parks, protected areas, cultural sites, and other forms of place-based conservation. The journal represents all areas of inquiry relevant to understanding and management of parks, protected areas, cultural sites, and other forms of place-based conservation, including but not limited to the natural sciences, cultural resources-related disciplines, social sciences, and interdisciplinary perspectives. 

Collaborating Well for Large Landscape Stewardship

Issue cover
Cover Caption: A montage of images from One Tam, a collaborative partnership to manage the landscape of Mount Tamalpais in California, along with one from Alcatraz Island in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Photo credits: Top: Ray Lee / Ray Lee photography. Second row: Lee jester; Vivien Kim Thorp / Golden Gate Parks Conservancy; Paul Myers / Golden Gate Parks Conservancy. Third row: Paul Myers / Golden Gate Parks Conservancy (both photos). Bottom: Ryan Curran White / Golden Gate Parks Conservancy. Cover layout: Gary E. Davis & Dorothy A. Davis.

This issue's featured theme articles explore the principles and practices for fostering collaborative leadership in stewardship at the large landscape scale.

GUEST EDITOR: Michelle O'Herron

Points of View

Climbing the ladder to park heaven

A "Letter from Woodstock" editorial column on the status differences between units of the US national park system that are designated as "National Parks" and those with other titles.

Community resilience and conservation connections

A "Coloring Outside the Lines" editorial column on how collaborative conservation programs must address common social, ecological, and economic goals and not emphasize merely one of these areas. To truly engage all stakeholders, public involvement must be inclusive.

Theme Articles

Together, we’ll go further: The opportunity of collaborative leadership

Tending to long-term landscape health and resilience is a highly complex enterprise. To address this complexity, we must imagine and facilitate a community-based response that is just as complex, inclusive, interdependent, informed, deliberative, and adaptive as the challenges we face. Conservation and stewardship partnerships are a now-familiar way to try to tackle this monumental task. However, successful conservation partnerships are not possible without leadership that can explore shared values amidst dissenting views, navigate complex and technical information to bring all parties to a shared understanding of the issues, manage conflict and facilitate difficult conversations, and approach these multi-faceted challenges with humility and empathy. This is both the challenge and the opportunity of collaborative leadership. The series of papers in this issue of Parks Stewardship Forum on “Collaborating Well” explores what makes collaborative leadership work. This introductory piece illustrates why collaborative leadership is so critical to meet our landscape stewardship needs. The article on the Partnership Impact Model goes beyond describing this work and delves into how to measure its impact. Moreover, the article on peer learning provides examples of how to advance collaborative leadership successes by sharing critical knowledge, experience, and skills with others. Within all of these facets of collaborative leadership are social and cross-cultural competencies that further enable this work.

Practicing collaborative leadership: Demonstrating value through evidence of partnership impact

The 21st century’s dynamic natural and social landscapes include increased wildfire fire intensity, unpredictable weather patterns, and demands for equity and justice. The very scale of these challenges requires new and creative approaches to land protection and stewardship; therefore, many conservation leaders and practitioners are exploring new ways to restore and care for the environment as integrated and interconnected landscapes. Landscape stewardship partnerships and networks have significantly grown over the past two decades to collaborate, innovate, and undertake collective action at varying scales. These adaptive cross-boundary partnerships and networks connect local communities, land- and water-managing agencies, private landowners, scientists, tribes, the non-profit sector, and many others to tackle the challenges we face. Because collaboration requires considerable trust and investment, stakeholders are seeking tools to understand its value and methods for measuring and monitoring its impact. However, there is a shortage of research-based frameworks to evaluate the impact of landscape stewardship partnerships practicing collaborative leadership. In this article, the Partnership Impact Model (a trademark of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy) is introduced as a promising impact assessment framework, with highlights from partnerships and networks that have used it. Readers are encouraged to consider this model to both monitor partnership health and to demonstrate its impact.

Putting collaborative leadership into practice: The role of peer learning

Learning and exchange among peers (“peer learning”) is an important process shaping and enabling landscape conservation and stewardship. As a practice that connects practitioners working at the landscape scale within and across regions—and that dedicates time and resources to supporting meaningful exchange—peer learning builds and strengthens the relationships at the core of the collaboration and partnership that are central to meeting shared goals and needs. This article explores peer learning and its role in learning, demonstrating, and building collaborative leadership. It also offers two examples of peer learning initiatives and their on-the-ground outcomes: the Large Landscape Peer Learning Initiative, a program coordinated by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy to bring together an international group of landscape conservation practitioners for shared problem-solving; and the Landscape Conservation Catalyst Fund Program, an initiative of the Network for Landscape Conservation to create a learning-exchange community among grantees to support the development of place-based partnerships.

Fire Management 24/7/365: Report of a workshop on the mitigation of wildfire risk in the mixed conifer forests of California

Extreme and catastrophic fire events over the past few years have caused fire and resource agencies to reassess their priorities and consider ways to more effectively manage risk, as well as restore fire-dependent ecosystems. In 2020, in California alone, 4.2 million acres burned, 10,500 structures were destroyed or damaged, and 31 people were killed. Nationally, 10.3 million acres burned. And 2020 was a replay of 2019, 2018, and 2017. As a result, many members of the George Wright Society (GWS) have been drawn into the crisis, as well as the efforts to find solutions. One member of GWS suggested a workshop to find ways to increase prescribed burning and other needed treatments in the Sierra Nevada, to reduce the risk of megafires. After consulting agencies and other partners, GWS organized "Fire Management 24/7/365: A Workshop on the Mitigation of Wildfire Risk in the Mixed Conifer Forests of California" in February 2021. This paper is an account of the workshop, which we hope will result in enduring collaborations.

2020 Woodward Fire case study: Examining the role of fire as an ecological process in a coastal California ecosystem

Of the countless fires that burned across California ecosystems during the record-breaking and destructive 2020 fire season, the Woodward Fire, which burned nearly 5,000 acres of Point Reyes National Seashore wilderness lands, stands out as one instance in which the return of fire as an ecological process to this landscape may promote positive outcomes. Here we present the ecological narrative of the Woodward Fire as an opportunity to investigate the effects of mixed-severity fire burning across a mosaic of diverse California coastal habitat types with a complex fire history. Early observations indicate that the Woodward Fire may yield net positive ecological effects across the burn area beyond just reduction of surface fuels, such as increased heterogeneity across the landscape, shifts in vegetation types, and possible appearance of rare fire-following species.

Peering through the smokescreen of success with ecological fire use: A pilot study of three USFS Regions’ 2018–2019 wildfire seasons

This paper explores current levels of Wildland Fire Use (WFU) as a tool for managing wildfires for resource and ecological benefits. In 2009 new policy guidance for the federal Wildland Fire Policy represented a major advance towards a paradigm shift of ecological fire management by allowing wildfires to be managed for both protection and restoration objectives simultaneously. However, at the same time WFU was eliminated as a distinct category of wildfire incident, and since then, a number of abstract, deliberately vague terms have become common surrogates for WFU. We analyzed suppression documents from wildfires managed by the US Forest Service in three USFS Regions during 2018–2019. Results show that in some USFS Regions there may be more WFU for resource/ecological benefits occurring than is officially acknowledged, obscured by the various euphemisms for WFU that are limiting public recognition of ecological fire management success.

National Park Service fire restoration, policies versus results: What went wrong

In the 1960s the US National Park Service developed a policy designed to restore the natural ecological role of wildland fire. The policy was driven by growing understanding of ecosystem management benefits, as reflected in the 1963 Leopold Report on wildlife management in national parks. The new policy was designed to reverse decades of aggressive wildfire suppression that had caused disruptions in habitats and vegetative communities, and unnaturally high wildland fuel accumulation. More than 50 years later, the policy has largely failed to achieve its goals. This failure is due not just to climate change and the rise of new fire regimes dominated by mega-fires. It also was due to a lack of clear and unified organizational commitment by many parks, along with continued administrative comfort with fire suppression-oriented thinking, particularly during the window of opportunity between 1970 and 2000. During this time program emphasis shifted from ecosystem restoration to hazard fuels reduction, and program direction from Natural Resources staff to Emergency Services personnel. Efforts to establish a balance between emergency response thinking and resource management thinking largely failed due to institutional barriers and funding/staffing decisions driven by the threat of large wildfires. Park managers became wary of natural fire regime restoration efforts after the 1988 Yellowstone fires and the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire. This accelerated the demise of the Leopold Report vision of restoring and maintaining the ecological role of natural fire. In its place, wildfire suppression philosophy again became predominant, as reflected in the National Fire Plan with its focus away from ecological fire use and toward hazard fuel reduction in support of protecting the wildland urban interface. Restoring the Leopold Report vision requires an interdivisional commitment by Park emergency response and resources management organizations, guided by leadership at all organizational levels. It now may be timely to establish an NPS advisory board on wildland fire management similar to the one that produced the Leopold Report. This Board should review wildland fire policy implementation over the past 58 years, determine whether the ecosystem restoration paradigm is still valid, and if so, then the types of leadership and organizational changes required to achieve it.

New Perspectives (Non-Peer Reviewed)

A recreation ecology perspective on the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic: Potential parks and protected area impacts relating to visitor spatial use, terrestrial flora and fauna, and management

Measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 require changes in the ways that people travel, gather, and recreate in outdoor spaces. In 2020, to limit human-to-human transmission of COVID-19, US park and protected area managers at all levels of governance implemented closures and restrictions on the types of activities and facilities available for public use. At the same time, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined suggestions for social distancing, wearing face masks, and limiting travel and group sizes for social gatherings. This thought piece explores potential shifts in park accessibility and human behaviors that may lead to cascading impacts on visitor spatial use, terrestrial flora and fauna, and park management. We discuss potential changes in visitor spatial behavior and possible subsequent ecological impacts on terrestrial flora and fauna. Additionally, we connect these topics with management implications and emphasize adaptive management and continued monitoring to address current and future pandemic-related issues. We provide park managers, researchers, and other professionals with expected social and ecological implications resulting from managerial and behavioral shifts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, we suggest management approaches to address and monitor these impacts. This information can help shape how park managers respond to the ongoing pandemic and future human health issues that impact park visitors and flora and fauna. Finally, we offer suggestions for where prospective researchers can direct their focus, especially in areas where recreation ecology and human disease management intersect.

Reflections on the early history of recreation ecology

A major challenge for managers of parks and other conservation lands where recreation is allowed is to ensure that visitors do not impair the natural values for which those lands were established. Recreation ecology is the academic discipline that provides a scientific foundation for managing the ecological impacts of outdoor recreation use. This article traces the development of recreation ecology from its disparate beginnings in the early 20th century, through a period of rapid growth starting in the 1970s, until its early maturity by the end of the 20th century. It introduces the reader to early recreation ecologists, such as E.P. Meinecke, Neil Bayfield, and Michael Liddle, and describes the important early investments in this work by US Forest Service Research. It reviews some of the most important early applications of recreation ecology: inventory and monitoring techniques, the Leave No Trace education program, and knowledge about how impact varies with factors that are subject to management control (e.g., amount of use, type of use etc.).

Advances in Research and Management (Peer-Reviewed)

Nature as a mental health intervention: State of the science and programmatic possibilities for the conservation community

Evidence suggests that exposure to nature and natural stimuli benefits individual and community-level mental health, leading to new efforts to incorporate mental health benefits into land conservation design, policy, and programming. This article summarizes the existing evidence about nature exposure and mental health and presents findings from a six-month knowledge-generation exercise conducted through the Yale School of the Environment to identify best practices and potential programmatic activities for the parks and land management sector to support youth mental health through nature-based, outdoor programming. Key recommendations include details on: (1) starting conversations about mental health and nature within the community, (2) recognizing organizational limitations and pursuing partnerships, (3) engaging communities in program development, (4) providing welcoming spaces to build participant comfort, and (5) creating programming that is flexible and adaptable, and becomes more challenging over time. Potential nature-based pilot activities include: (1) low-input ideas for short-term programming, one-off events, or reconfiguration of messaging materials, staff training, and the composition of the organization’s board of directors; (2) medium-input ideas for partnering with outside organizations to connect existing user groups to preserved lands and expand activity offerings; and (3) high-input ideas for generating new programs, typically with organizational partners. The land conservation and parks stewardship sector has a unique opportunity to provide mental health benefits to the communities in which it operates, potentially raising the profile of conserved lands as important and beneficial for society.

The Photographer's Frame

The allure of remote, wild places

This visual essay in "The Photographer's Frame" shares the travels of the authors and their engagement with the inhabitants of many places around the world, with the hope of inspiring "fellow travelers on Earth to seek the personal enrichment that can come from interacting with, understanding, and caring for all living things, including people."

Verse in Place

Museum of Stones

A poem in the "Verse in Place" section of Parks Stewardship Forum.


The current issue of PARKS journal

A summary of and link to the current issue of PARKS: The International Journal of Protected Areas and Conservation, published by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).