- Growing emphasis on ecosystem and landscape-level forest management across North America has spurred an examination of alternative management strategies which focus on emulating dynamic natural disturbance processes, particularly those associated with forest fire regimes. This topic is the cornerstone of research in the Blue River Landscape Study (BRLS) taking place in the Central Cascades Adaptive Management Area, located in the McKenzie River watershed of western Oregon. As scientists and managers involved with the BRLS work to unravel the ecological and economic implications of disturbance-based forest management, they must also consider the level of public acceptability for such an approach. Currently there is little information regarding what citizens know about disturbance-based management, their confidence in natural resource agencies to carry out this approach, and their overall level of support for it.
This thesis summarizes research on public acceptability of using historical disturbance as a guide for future forest management. Specifically, it examines the perceptions of disturbance-based management held by members of the attentive public in McKenzie River watershed communities and the cities of Eugene and Springfield. The study is based upon responses to a mail questionnaire distributed to this group in the summer and fall of 2005. This questionnaire covered three broad categories: participants’ knowledge of forest management and ecosystem processes, their opinions about citizen-agency interactions, and their judgments about the use of disturbance-based management practices, including perceived risks and uncertainties associated with this approach.
This study yielded several important findings. First, members of the attentive public in the McKenzie watershed have high levels of knowledge with respect to basic ecosystem management terms, and lower levels of knowledge about landscape-level disturbance processes. Knowledge of disturbance-based management techniques is also low, and terminology associated with this approach is not intuitive for citizens. Second, public confidence in agencies and the information they provide appears to be problematic, though McKenzie watershed citizens tend to trust local agency personnel more than agencies as institutions (e.g. federal or regional level). Third, respondents display cautious support of disturbance-based management, with several qualifications. These include emphasis on the need for projects based on sound science, transparent and inclusive decision-making processes, frank disclosure of risks and uncertainties associated with projects, and clear management objectives.
Based on these findings, several recommendations can be made. First, acknowledge the important role that attentive citizens in McKenzie communities can play in making decisions about new management strategies, and engage them from the very beginning in decision-making processes. Second, objectives and rationale behind disturbance-based management approaches must be clarified for the public. Agencies can capitalize on the existing high level of basic knowledge of forests and ecosystem processes to cultivate understanding of disturbance-emulating techniques. Third, address issues of risk and uncertainty associated with a disturbance-based management approach. These issues are often primary factors in the public’s willingness to accept forest management practices, particularly those that are new and largely untested. Fourth and finally, focus on improving citizen-agency interactions, not just on a per-project basis, but as a central, long-term goal.