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Can Collaborative Governance Help Reduce Forestry Impact On Water Quality? A Study In North Sweden

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Katarina Eckerberg, Hjalmar Laudon, Ragna Lestander, Irina Mancheva
Katarina Eckerberg, prof
Irina Mancheva, PhD stud
Department of Political Science
Umeå University
Hjalmar Laudon, prof
Ragna Lestander, PhD stud
Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Umeå Sweden

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 10: Management of water resources,


By virtue of their vast area, forest-covered areas are one of the largest sources of contaminants and nutrients reaching the Baltic Sea from Sweden. In Sweden, a range of new collaborative projects have been initiated by the County Administration Boards (CAB), the Forestry Agency (FA), municipalities, forest land owners and interest groups to minimize the negative forestry influence. Much of these recent activities have been spurred by the Water Framework Directive (WFD, EC2000/60), representing a new approach in water resource and pollution control policy-making.

The WFD employs a holistic view: encompassing all sources of pollutants within a watershed or river basin and including involvement of all interested stakeholders in the decision-making (Coenen & Bressers 2012). It seeks win-win solutions fostering collaboration that involves negotiations over rules and measures to improve water quality. Collaborative watershed management has the potential to overcome tensions between different interests by providing more policy-making autonomy to stakeholders at the grassroots level and contribute to trust-building and shared visions over the future of local water resources (Sabatier et al 2005). While the WFD leads to high expectations concerning the water quality goals, however, the Water Administration is meeting cuts in public financing. Is collaborative governance then the answer to improving the quality of forest waters?

The overall purpose of our newly started interdisciplinary research is to explore through which mechanisms collaborative forest-water governance could become most effective, moving beyond the much investigated procedural aspects of collaborative governance to specifically evaluate its influences from forestry on water quality.


We examine existing and newly emerging water management partnerships in the Vindel River basin, located in north Sweden, employing methodologies from both political science and forest hydrology/biogeochemistry. Our methods include analyses of official documentation on water management plans, records of meetings, and interviews with involved stakeholders. The specific water quality measures is surveyed and compared to other areas without collaborative management plans (as controls). Informants were identified through contact points in the Water Councils, CAB and FA.

The political science analysis departs from the integrative framework for collaborative governance (Emerson et al 2011) and the dynamic framework for watershed management (Sabatier et al 2005). Both frameworks seek to explain outcomes and include contextual variables and procedural variables. We focus particularly on the relationship between partnership characteristics, including the role of the state (Kuidersma & Boonstra 2010) and real and perceived impacts on watersheds.

The hydrology/biogeochemistry component concerns to what extent and how the water management partnership has resulted in measures designed to protect the water quality. These measures are compared to qualitative literature review and quantitative meta-analysis results to investigate their effectiveness. In a last step in this analysis a state-of-the-art modeling tool box developed within the Krycklan Research Catchment (, also located within the Vindel River basin, is used to test alternative measures for minimizing water quality degeneration by forestry operations. More specifically, this modeling approach is based on the development of a new improved analytical framework for investigating forestry impact on nutrient loading (Schelker et al 2013) and testing tools to optimize the design of riparian buffer zones (Kuglerova et al 2014).

Preliminary results

How forestry contributes to the contamination of the aquatic ecosystems in the boreal landscape has recently become increasingly scrutinized (Bishop et al 2009; Löfgren et al 2009; Laudon et al 2011; Schelker et al 2012). More and more preventative measures initiated by state authorities, land owners and NGOs are in place. Research on the emergence and functioning of the WFD is underway in many other European countries as well, and several of these also pay attention to questions of participation and partnerships (Fox 2004 in Howarth, 2009; WISE, 2009; Liefferinck et al 2011). A recent survey of the results of collaboration in the Water Councils in north Sweden suggests that local leadership and state support are pivotal to creating action (Eckerberg et al 2012). How effective many of these preventive measures that are now being taken into action can however be questioned. Water quality degeneration in the forested landscape is primarily driven by diffuse leakage of nutrients and contaminants rather than point sources or hot spots. Hence in order to be effective, preventive measures generally have to cover large geographical areas which requires agreement among landowners, NGOs and authorities what best practice means.

Water management falls under the competencies of the CABs as part of the Water Administration, while the responsibility for forest waters rests with the Forestry Agency. Now these officers are increasingly expected to initiate and lead deliberative processes, which they feel insecure about (Westberg et al 2010). Collaboration is interpreted differently at different CABs, and even within some of them. The situation for the CAB officers is complex with a double mission; to ensure nature conservation on one hand and to initiate and support collaboration on the other. These missions are directed by quite different legal /democratic principles (Westberg et al 2010; BÀckstrand et al 2010). Similarly, the Forestry Agency has the dual responsibility of increasing forest production as well as protecting the environment, including forest waters (Hagberg 2010).

The objectives of different actors engaging in water management are thus rather disparate, and tensions exist between single purpose economic benefits and ecological objectives, as well as between social functions of water and ecological systems perspectives. The expansion of participants in water management who have multiple -- and potentially conflicting -- objectives could therefore lead to legitimization and knowledge claims' dilemmas and lengthy and costly procedures (Coenen & Bressers 2012). In parallel processes of devolving responsibility to local actors in nature protection policy, remarkable positive results have been shown in terms of mobilizing local actors and increasing institutional competence, also leading to new collaborations and substantive results (Eckerberg 2012). Likewise, BÀckstrand et al (2010) argue that various forms of hybrid governance may not only increase procedural legitimacy but also strengthen environmental performance even if such results are not easily proven.

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