Understanding the key characteristics and challenges of pine barrens restoration: insights from a Delphi survey of forest land managers and researchers.
Pine barrens are open-canopy ecological communities once prevalent on sandy soils across the northern Great Lakes Region of the United States and Canada, though fire suppression and plantation forestry have now reduced them to a few isolated areas. Efforts to restore pine barrens are underway on some public lands, but lack of knowledge on the social and ecological issues and challenges that affect these projects impedes fuller progress. As a precursor to designing a public preference survey for pine barrens restoration, we sought input from those with expert knowledge about pine barrens. Using a three-round modified Delphi survey, forest land managers and researchers identified the key characteristics of pine barrens and important current and future management challenges. Key characteristics were related to fire, landscape structure, plant and animal species, soils, and social themes. Current and future challenges were related to landscape, invasive species, social, economic, climate change, and science themes. Four social issues (education, fire acceptance, fire risk, aesthetics) were rated among the top current challenges but none of them maintained prominence as future challenges. Potential explanations for this shift are that the experts felt these social concerns would be resolved in time or that other issues, such as development pressures and budgets for carrying out restoration, would become greater future challenges. Our approach can be used by managers and researchers to better understand the ecosystems they seek to restore and to communicate with public stakeholders about restoration efforts.