“Scaling up” forest restoration from the demonstration to the landscape scale implies contending with landscapes that are not only inhabited by people but also enrolled in both economic and non-economic networks of social relation and meaning. Rural community members are increasingly asserting a central role in co-producing landscape restoration projects with scientists and environmental managers, including planning restoration interventions, contributing to restoration “inputs,” and determining the resulting “outputs” of economic and non-economic benefits. Practitioners have witnessed numerous examples of failed top-down restoration planning that lacked this critical element of co-production. Here we synthesize multiple recent case studies conducted in the rural U.S. West, complemented by cases from outside this region, that shed light on the diverse means by which representatives of resource-dependent (or traditionally resource-dependent) rural communities are participating in and even leading landscape restoration efforts, their motivations for doing so, and the social/political/economic factors that influence the success of landscape restoration in social-ecological systems. We emphasize institutions, along with the principles of ownership, legitimacy, local benefits, and local knowledge, in order to contribute to an understanding of the dimensions of meaningful engagement of the people who live closest to the resources and ecosystems of concern.
We conclude that restoration scientists and practitioners would do well to consider the principles of ownership, legitimacy, local benefits, and local knowledge, and to take account of relevant local- to national-scale institutions, when embarking upon restoration initiatives. Doing so necessarily implies engaging substantively with communities and community members that can contribute knowledge, resources, and legitimacy to restoration projects. Through case study examples, we provide considerations for helping to build constructive partnerships that increase the likelihood of long-term restoration success and explore some of the persistent tensions that affect the co-production of ecological restoration in institutionally complex settings.