A land systems science approach to assessing forest governance and characterizing the emergence of social forestry in the Western Cascades of Oregon
National forests in the United States are undergoing a spatially and temporally uneven governance transition in response to Congressional policies, agency mandates, and social and economic pressures, with many moving from a wholly state-led 'dominant federal' model to a more collaborative networked governance model which we refer to as 'social forestry'. While the broad contours of this transition have been observed and studied previously, there have been few attempts to characterize it using quantitative, qualitative, or geospatial methods. Here, we combine a novel remote sensing-based method with qualitative social science research to understand the emergence of social forestry and its implications for land use/land cover change associated with implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) in the Western Cascades of Oregon. We linked time-series satellite data with forest inventory data to track patterns of timber harvest at scales commensurate with timber management decision-making. We then compared these patterns to policy-based expectations. We found a significant disconnect between NWFP policy and actual timber harvest patterns, raising questions about the effectiveness of the NWFP land use allocation system and the 'land sparing' approach to managing tensions between conservation and production. Qualitative research, including semi-structured interviews with federal agency personnel and local stakeholders, shed light on the causal mechanisms and reciprocal relationships driving spatial patterns of timber harvesting, which we discuss in terms of the emergence of social forestry involving complex, place-based negotiations between the federal government and local veto actors advocating for conservation. Findings have implications for US Forest Service public engagement strategies and efforts to establish zones of agreement regarding timber harvesting, as well as broader discussions about the agency's future.