Bankable resilience: Reproducing forests as rent-bearing infrastructure

Authors: Sara Nelson*, University of Minnesota, Patrick Bigger*, Lancaster University
Topics: Environment, Economic Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Forests, financialization, rent, resilience, California
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: 8201, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The proliferation of catastrophic mega-fires in the US West has made forest restoration an active area of policy experimentation. One such experiment, the Forest Resilience Bond (FRB), offers an entry point to explore how forest landscapes are being rendered investible as adaptive infrastructure in a changing fire regime. Inspired by infrastructure financing models, the FRB aims to harness return-seeking capital for landscape-scale forest restoration on public lands by monetizing the ecosystem benefits to stakeholders such as government agencies, utilities, and municipalities. In the process, it facilitates new connections among state and federal agencies, water and energy utilities, forest collaboratives, and conservation agencies, changing the institutional landscape of forest management. Public and private finance is invited into a dynamic institutional context in which forests are recast as complex adaptive ecosystems capable of generating monetizable environmental functions. This discursively shifts forests from sites of timber extraction or recreation toward infrastructure amenable to investment and capable of distributing predictable rents. We follow the initial development and piloting of the FRB in Yuba County, CA in order to ask how ecosystems are rendered infrastructural at the same time as infrastructure becomes capable of delivering financial rents, and the challenges and contradictions inherent to this process. We approach these developments in a way that sees financialization not as a foregone conclusion but as a site of policy experimentation that generates new capacities on the part of state and community agencies, the political-economic dynamics and consequences of which cannot be known in advance.

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