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Abstract Globalization and shifting societal relations with nature generate change and conflicting politics in rural areas of industrialized nations. In this context, multifunctionality has emerged as an important policy logic to stabilize commodity production while encouraging amenity-based development and the production of ecological services. We argue that the concept of multifunctionality, while originally derived from agricultural trade negotiations, is applicable to integrated rural development challenges in forested landscapes. To understand and realize a progressive form of multifunctionality, information is needed on local actors' land use priorities and the factors that shape their interests. Based on data from a 2004 mail survey (183 valid responses; 61% response rate) in two northern NY communities, one amenity-oriented and the other timber-dependent, we conducted an empirical analysis of actors' forest management priorities. Factor analysis allowed us to identify four distinct orientations to management: ecological orientation, recreation orientation, large-scale timber orientation, and small-scale industry orientation. GLM regression allows us to assess how economic context, professional roles, and personal lifestyle considerations affect individuals' adherence to these distinct orientations. The commonalities and differences we observe among sets of actors engaged in forest policy and management point to constraints to realization of multifunctionality and to opportunities to develop richer conceptual tools to probe contemporary transitions.