Rural Technology Initiative

Increasing technology transfer to rural forest communities:

The disparity in personal income between rural Washington timber communities and urban areas increased by 40% over the last 17 years and can be expected to widen further with new requirements to protect salmon habitat. While urban areas are growing with new technologies, rural areas are hampered by difficulties in adopting new technologies. The forest sector may appear to be an overly mature, low technology sector; however, in reality the ability to manage forests for increasingly complex wood product and environmental values is extremely sensitive to technology.

The basic scientific knowledge needed to manage forests is far ahead of the capacity to convert the knowledge to useable technologies, to make the technologies accessible to rural areas, and to train people to use the technologies. There is a need for a network and service system of trainers and users with a focus on access and communication between technologies and timber-rural people. Solutions to problems created by salmon listings, for example, will require intensive training in managing riparian areas and use of forestry equipment in those areas, including specialized logging machinery, remote sensing devices, use of computer inventory tools, along with landscape management plans, financial analysis, planning packages and product marketing.

The Solution:

A pilot project was established in the State of Washington as an investment in technology transfer to rural communities by a federal grant for a "rural forest technology network and service system." An active infrastructure of scientific experts, instructors, training facilities, computer hardware, software, and equipment were developed by The University of Washington School of Forest Resources (UWSFR), in conjunction with Washington State University (WSU) Extension. This program has provided training on rural forest management issues, and provided science based technology to sustain the economic viability of rural forest activities as well as environmental values such as the protection of endangered species, habitat diversity, high quality timber and other forest commodities, recreation opportunities and value added forest products. Reports, Fact Sheets, forest planning and other software, streaming video of presentations and a record of achievements are available on the website at http://www.ruraltech.org.

The pilot project received resounding positive support from its national review group as well as local advisors and has continued operating after the federal funding for the pilot project ended, focusing on special training grants and state projects that provide technology information for timber-rural communities.

The Components:

  1. Translation of science to technology: A team of scientists at the universities are needed to create the technical tools and certificate-bearing curricula to train field personnel. Tools are needed to achieve a high degree of success in regeneration, stand and landscape management, harvesting, riparian protection, timber processing, value added marketing, systems modeling, wildlife enhancement, fire protection, monitoring and adaptive management, carbon management and other needs. These dedicated scientists are needed to work closely with other scientists doing basic research in these fields at the universities and other institutions.
  2. Making technology accessible to rural areas: Technicians and scientists work through existing organizations e.g. UWSFR and WSU Cooperative Extension to create and service high technology information links among locations focusing especially on training trainers to better use technology (e.g., central data access, linking remote GIS facilities, computer laboratories, etc.)
  3. Training and technical assistance: Experts at rural locations provide short courses, computerized video-like teaching networks, assistance to local teachers, scholarships, and technical assistance for local implementation based on the latest technologies and applications of science. Extension networks provide technical staff, equipment, and hardware to make the information and software useable to local people.
  4. A Steering Group of rural constituents and technologists is used to set priorities, offer scholarships, and support the development of cooperative agreements with other experts and users.
  5. To find out more please see RTI website.