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Stakeholder perceptions on better management of Cross-timbers forest resources

Starr, Morgan
The Cross-timbers ecoregion represents the broad ecotone between the Eastern Deciduous Forest and the Tallgrass Prairie. The region is threatened by both natural and anthropogenic factors including urban development, increasing climate variability, and the encroachment of eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana). In particular, the exclusion of fire has dramatically changed the composition and structure of the Cross-timbers forests, which historically experienced multiple fires per decade. Active management practices such as prescribed fire, timber thinning, and fuels reduction are largely absent in the region. These management practices are further limited by a lack of a forest resource market. This study utilized a mixed-mode data collection method, which involved focus group meetings as well as an online version of the survey to determine how stakeholders perceived both active management and market opportunities within the Cross-timbers. The requisite data were analyzed using the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT)-Analytic Network Process (ANP) framework. The results suggested that the presence of healthy and resilient forests and the opportunities associated with increased revenue could be the driving forces in active Cross-timbers management. In addition, the availability of a variety of natural resources and the restoration of ecosystem services could be the key to developing a sustainable market within the Cross-timbers. However, stakeholders across-the-board revealed that the financial burden of management and the risk of uncontrolled fire were the major obstacles in these efforts. Further, uncertain markets, lack of enthusiasm from manufacturers, and low quality resources may be what currently hinder the market potential of the Cross-timbers.