Defining and measuring forest dependence in the United States: Operationalization and sensitivity analysis
This manuscript helps bridge a gap between theoretical work that advocates for a broad view of forest dependence, and empirical work that has focused narrowly on economic measures. Background: Forest dependence has been widely recognized as a valuable concept for understanding human communities’ well being and vulnerability to shocks and changes. Past theoretical literature has highlighted the importance of recognizing various types of dependence environmental, economic, and social yet past empirical literature on the topic in the United States has almost exclusively relied on measures of economic dependence such as employment and earnings from the traditional forest products sector. Objective and Methods: As a first step to bridge the gap between the theoretical and empirical, we reviewed the existing, publicly available, reliable, wall-to-wall data sources to identify alternate proxy measures for forest dependence. Data availability made the analysis feasible only at the county level the administrative subdivisions of the state or higher. Results and Conclusions: We created environmental, economic, and social criteria based on threshold levels of the following proxy variables: forest area, earnings, employment, and indigenous population. Using these criteria, we identified 524 counties to be potentially forest-dependent of 3140 total counties in the United States. The largest concentration was in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast regions and a higher proportion were non-metro counties than metro. Varying the threshold levels significantly changes the number of counties identified but does not alter the overall geographic trends.