Seeing the Forest AND the Trees Study Tour participants spent most of the trip’s final day in a group process “huddle”, sorting through the new ideas, impressions and information we were exposed to during the tour’s seven hectic days. Before we got on the plane to return home, we wanted to identify the key elements of a shared post-tour action plan that addressed our overall study tour goals of 1) increasing the quality and value of Minnesota forests and forest products, 2) optimizing the balance of forest benefits, and 3) developing a shared vision for forest management in Minnesota including increased productivity.

Each of the group’s six “Learning Track Teams” had developed a set of recommendations for possible inclusion in the plan – fourteen suggestions in all. For example, the Public Engagement Learning Track suggested a proposal to develop a demonstration project (community scale) for engaging private land owners. The Public Policy Learning Track presented, among others, a proposal to rationalize ownership of and intensify management of school and university trust lands. The Environmental Review and Permitting Learning Track brought forth an idea to develop a general permit for district heating facilities at the community scale, in order to remove procedural barriers to these systems in Minnesota.

Blandin Foundation Program Officer Matt Rezac lead tour participants through a “dot voting” exercise to sort through all of the ideas surfaced by the Learning Track Teams. While all of the ideas had merit, and many of them are likely to find legs in the work and support of individual tour participants or ad hoc groups of participants, our goal was to agree upon a manageable “short list” of shared projects we could agree to support together. Matt asked participants to cast their votes through the filter of two key criteria: 1) was the idea something the group as a whole was uniquely positioned to accomplish, could not be done by any individual institution or organization; and 2) was the idea something the voter was personally willing to advance.

In addition to these criteria, the Systems Change Learning Track invited participants to bear in mind a number of “filters” they developed to help evaluate proposed actions. They included:

  • Does not require the development of new knowledge
  • Can be accomplished within five years
  • No significant public opposition anticipated
  • No “solo champions”
  • Anticipation of measurable change
  • No localized actions unless part of a larger strategy
  • Integration of sustainability principles within the idea
  • Synergy with other adopted action steps
  • Builds upon assets (versus solving problems)
  • Doesn’t require significant public investment dollars

Two rounds of “dot voting” and plenty of lively discussion about the process and criteria landed the group on five key recommendations. Presented below in DRAFT form, they are still very raw and subject to change and/or consolidation. Study tour participants are reorganizinig into Action Teams around each of the ideas.

      1. Develop a forest bioenergy strategy for Minnesota
      2. Increase the use of intermediate harvest activity across all land ownerships to advance forest productivity, whether for timber, wildlife, recreation, biodiversity, and/or biomass
      3. Build a state-wide and regional constituency for investment in productive forests
      4. Increase the engagement of family forest land owners in sustainable and productive forest management

Foundation staff will be working with the teams over the coming weeks to translate the ideas into specific action plans. We are also working to produce a number of specific products, including a final report, video, and other communication and learning tools to help us all share our experience with others.

Stay tuned!