VISION FOR PARTNERSHIP
This data platform was designed to improve the resources available to understand socioeconomic conditions in rural communities in California, and is the result of a multi-year collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service, the Sustainable Forest Action Coalition, and the Center for Economic Development. The inspiration for the project dates back to the early 2010’s, when the Sustainable Forest Action Coalition—a grassroots, nonpartisan group advocating for policies that balance the economic and environmental resilience of rural communities—organized a series of conversations with the Forest Service about their concerns that voices from small rural towns weren’t being heard in decision-making processes about public lands.
Forward-thinking stakeholders from both organizations agreed that there was a critical need for data that would allow for a better understanding and discussion of the socioeconomic conditions in small forest communities. After the Center for Economic Development hosted a roundtable between the U.S. Forest Service and the Sustainable Forest Action Coalition’s membership on the CSU, Chico campus in 2015, it became clear that forming an innovative partnership between the three organizations was the most efficient way to address this need.
COLLABORATION + OUTPUTS
The partners recognized the importance of learning from earlier efforts that had fallen short, and agreed that it was necessary for data to be collected at as fine a spatial scale as possible, under a rigorous, standardized methodology, and be comparable across the state. Across California, the partners collectively identified seventy-three rural areas made up of individual or geographically clustered towns or cities as “focal communities.” Selected focal communities often had a historic tie to timber or forest product industries, were the site of a USFS office, were adjacent to national forest lands, or served as a major travel gateway to national forest attractions and recreational opportunities.
The U.S. Forest Service entered into a cost-share agreement with the Center for Economic Development to prepare a series of in-depth reports, coalescing a broad range of public and proprietary data on social, economic, and demographic conditions in each community. Each community’s profile draws on numerous data sets from 18 distinct government or private sector data sources, and in many cases, these data are reported over a 10-30 year period to provide insights on the resilience of the community to past changes in forest policy, natural disasters, or economic downturns.
To ensure that voices from these rural communities were brought to the forefront during this process, the Sustainable Forest Action Coalition also contracted with the Center for Economic Development to initiate a survey research effort that would run in parallel with the profile development. Deployed in all 73 focal communities between 2016 and 2019, the questions were designed to assess how business owners and operators in these focal communities perceive the opportunities and challenges for their business have changed over time. The study also examined indicators of the quality of life and social resilience of the communities, including their access to health care and to recreation. In total, 1,592 businesses participated statewide, representing roughly 7% of businesses across all focal communities. Key statistics are reported in each community’s profile report, and detailed survey results are presented in standalone reports for each of the four forest regions of California.
WHERE WE ARE TODAY
This collaborative project represents an unprecedented effort to provide new tools for making data-driven decisions that explicitly account for the unique needs and important voices of rural California communities. Beyond the needs of the project partners, these data provide insights into rural communities with close ties to natural resources to land managers, economic development professionals, grassroots organizations, local governments, legislators, and educators.
HELP US IMPROVE
This beta version data platform provides access to the complete series of 73 community profiles (under Map) and 4 regional SFAC Business Survey reports (under Documents). We welcome your feedback. Questions, comments, and concerns may be submitted through our Contact form. The availability of future funding to update the data is still uncertain, so expressions of support from organizations and individuals who find this information beneficial, describing how you use the data and why you would like to see it continue to be updated in future, are particularly welcome.
REGIONAL SURVEY REPORTS
The Sustainable Forest Action Coalition (SFAC) Business Survey began in the Central Sierra region in the summer of 2016, and expanded from there to capture community feedback in every corner of rural California. The survey process was concluded in the summer of 2019. Nearly 1,600 business owners or operators have graciously participated in the study, representing 73 communities and diverse industry sectors.
Each time that the results from the statewide survey process are presented, we encounter the same question: what story do the data tell about my community? For confidentiality reasons, it is impossible to present disaggregated data for each community, but we recognize the value of fine-grained, locally applicable results for informing better policies and designing better projects.
Using community type as a cross-region filter offers a unique opportunity to explore how changes in the U.S. Forest Service’s policies may have impacted communities that share common geographic and economic characteristics, yet without divulging any information that could threaten the anonymity of individual participants. We’re excited to share these complete results for the first time publicly.