Rebecca Davidson, Spencer Plumb & Marcus Selg
At the end of the twentieth century, scholars divided public land policy within the United States into three periods: disposition, reservation, and management. As we enter the twenty-first century, our public lands are declining in health and, from a financial standpoint, are less an asset and more a liability. To address the issues facing public lands management, the federal government is now more dependent on public-private partnerships as well as private investment in the health of our public lands. Begging the question— are we entering a new period for public land policy following the “period of management”—an era of public-private partnerships?
Public-private partnerships, referred to as partnerships from here forward, are agreements between a federal public agency and a private individual, business, or organization, where the private party provides a financial or in- kind contribution to the public agency to achieve an agreed upon (or shared) goal. The U.S. Forest Service (“USFS”) is currently seeking and expanding upon opportunities to enter into public-private partnership as a means of accomplishing a growing number of often underfunded management responsibilities, including conservation, restoration, recreation, and ecosystem service protection.
This paper provides a brief review of USFS history to explain the emergence of the public-private partnership land management approach. A case study is then presented to highlight the newly developed Northern Arizona Forest Fund (“NAFF”), a public-private partnership established to expedite watershed restoration across five National Forests in northern Arizona. The case study provides highlights of lessons learned and insights on opportunities and challenges associated with developing partnerships in other locations.