How scientists and scientific information influence public forest policy

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University of New Brunswick
This thesis explores the role of scientists and scientific information in development of public forest policy. Four case studies concerning intensive forest fibre management, forest conservation, invasive alien species, and forest carbon were examined each representing contrasting conditions of agreement/disagreement about policy goals and the degree of scientific knowledge available. Objectives for each case were to: elucidate factors that led to policy change; assess degree of integration of science advisory and decision making processes; evaluate whether decisions were consistent with relevant scientific knowledge; and provide recommendations to improve science-policy integration. Policy entrepreneurs, influential individuals with significant resources and access to decision makers, combined with political events were identified as key factors leading to policy change in each of the four cases. In the forest conservation, invasive alien species and forest carbon cases, science-advisory processes were assessed as having “close” policy proximity, with scientists producing policy relevant materials and decision makers considering the science-based advice provided. In the intensive forest fibre management case, scientists were uninvolved in the revision of the 2014 New Brunswick forest policy, and as such, the case was assessed as having distant policy proximity. In the intensive forest fibre management, forest conservation, and invasive alien species cases, policy actors selectively used or re-interpreted science-based information for economic advantage. In the forest carbon case, scientists acted as problem brokers, reframing the policy problem and expanded the scope of scientific analysis. Only study participants of the forest carbon case study unanimously agreed that the decision to exclude forest management from Kyoto Protocol carbon accounting was consistent with relevant scientific advice. Participants in other cases exhibited positive and negative opinions regarding policy decisions being consistent with provided scientific advice. Establishing specialized professional fora where scientists and policy actors recursively work together may facilitate improved science-policy integration, provide decision makers with enhanced understanding of trade-offs for alternatives and better document science-policy integration efforts. Despite blurred boundaries between science and policy that might diminish credibility of science advisory processes, scientists cannot be passive players expecting research to spontaneously influence alternatives considered by decisions makers.