Public perspectives on forest ecosystem health : knowledge, preferences, and opinions from urban and rural communities throughout the Pacific Northwest Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/vt150m532

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  • Changes in forest ecosystem conditions in the region have prompted federal resource agencies to target the health of ecosystems in an effort to learn more about cause and effect relationships, develop plans for restoring healthy forest conditions, and communicate with citizens about treatment alternatives and potential outcomes. Because of the risk and uncertainty citizens associate with the concept of ecosystem health, part of the planning task also involves identifying the range of public concerns. This study was specifically designed to assist in an effort to develop a regional public communication process that actively includes citizens. The research design paired qualitative and quantitative data from public participants throughout Oregon and Washington. Key findings indicate that participants demonstrate a high level of awareness of forest conditions but also possess a low level of understanding about the causal components and treatment alternatives. Respondents, especially rural residents, were worried about the potential threats to ecosystem health and perceived forests east of the Cascades to have more forest health problems. There was strong support for active management even though trust levels in management agencies were mixed. Interactive forms of forest information were generally preferable to unidirectional formats. Finally, respondents, particularly urban participants, were favorable to increasing the role of science in resource decisions. These findings suggest four areas where federal agencies can engage the range of constituents to build lasting solutions for forest ecosystem health. First, build literacy among stakeholders. Effective ecosystem health programs will require agencies to recognize that the public is diverse and needs a common understanding of forest conditions. Additionally, developing broad-based awareness will involve not only information dissemination, but also outreach in forest communities and cooperative local projects. Second, address uncertainty and risk. Ecosystem health involves considerable uncertainty about how systems function and, as public participants play a larger role in the decision-making, addressing local conditions in the process is essential. Third, focus on situational context and site-specific conditions. Greater public acceptance of programs to treat forest health is likely to come in familiar settings where people have a genuine stake in the outcomes. Lastly, concentrate on agency-public interactions along with information provision. The success of any communication strategy will hinge on the relationship between federal agencies and citizens. A comprehensive plan will not only focus on the types of information used, but also on how and why it is communicated.
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