Forest planning and management efforts, including both forest plan revision and comprehensive river management planning, require extensive public engagement. This is an acknowledgement of the complexity of planning and management decision-making, which includes the need to contribute to ecological, economic, and socio-cultural sustainability. It is also an acknowledgment that there is no ‘correct’ answer to be discovered only by experts; indeed, the public has varying and sometimes conflicting values. A major task is to understand and articulate peoples’ human-nature relationship in a way that can support both decision-making and public relations. However, social science approaches that are practically applied by practitioners within the public engagement process are limited.
Our ‘social vulnerability’ protocol is designed to engage the public about the importance of (and tradeoffs among) ecosystem services, as well as those drivers of change influential to such benefits. The protocol applies Q-methodology, a rigorous social science methodology, in a way that is flexible enough to meet the needs of a variety of decision contexts. Analysis yields a limited number of general archetypical human-nature relationships, which can aid management and planning by supporting both decision-making and public-relation benefits. Regarding decision-making, the protocol yields a tractable understanding of how the general public differ with regard to how human well-being is supported by public land, as well as potential tradeoffs between and within different perspectives. For public relations, the clear process demonstrates scientific rigor, and the resulting understanding can help members of the general public clearly see other, disparate perspectives. Our protocol has been applied in support of forest plan revision on the Shoshone National Forest and the Gila National Forest. The derived knowledge was used in direct support of the ‘ecosystem services’ component of the Gila’s revised forest plan. Currently, the protocol is being applied in support of comprehensive river management planning on the Flathead River system in Montana.
Armatas, C.A.; Venn, T.J.; Watson, A.E. 2017. Understanding social-ecological vulnerability with Q-methodology: a case study of water-based ecosystem services in Wyoming, USA. Sustainability Science 12 (1):105-121. DOI 10.1007/s11625-016-0369-1.
Armatas, C.A.; Borrie, W.T.; Watson, A.E. 2017. Gila National Forest public planning meetings: Results of the Ecosystem Services Station. Prepared for the Gila National Forest Planning Team. Missoula, MT: The University of Montana, 43 pp.