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Forests across the world stand at a crossroads where climate and land-use changes are shaping their future. Despite demonstrations of political will and global efforts, forest loss, fragmentation, and degradation continue unabated. No clear evidence exists to suggest that these initiatives are working. A key reason for this apparent ineffectiveness could lie in the failure to recognize the agency of all stakeholders involved. Landscapes do not happen. We shape them. Forest transitions are social and behavioral before they are ecological. Decision makers need to integrate better representations of people’s agency in their mental models. A possible pathway to overcome this barrier involves eliciting mental models behind policy decisions to allow better representation of human agency, changing perspectives to better understand divergent points of view, and refining strategies through explicit theories of change. Games can help decision makers in all of these tasks.

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