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The Human Dimensions Program has four "Problem Areas" (that is, areas of research that have issues or 'problems' to study):
1. Resource forecasting, decision-making, knowledge integration, and risk management
Making land management decisions is difficult at best. Such decisions need to be based in part on sound biophysical science. Problems society faces are complex, making it difficult to understand and predict results on the land. It is also important that decisions make good economic sense; if the costs outweigh the benefits, it is unlikely they can be implemented for very long, irrespective of how sound the biological science is underlying them. But to make the challenge even more difficult, even if decisions are based on the very best biophysical science and are economically viable, they might still prove difficult to implement if they lack public understanding and support. Thus, we need improved knowledge about the acceptability of various management practices, risks, and the resulting conditions and guidelines on how this insight helps develop decisions that are sound (biophysically and socially), economically viable, and capable of implementation on the ground. This work must account for differences between public and private lands.
2. Resource valuation and trade-off analyses applied to market and non-market forest and rangeland ecosystem services and land management;
Incorporating public preferences into land management decisions is an essential part of managing national forests and other public lands. Failure to consider the full range of public values often results in contentious lawsuits. However, measuring public preferences is not a straightforward task. There are important, but unresolved, conceptual and measurement challenges and controversies that originate both within and across social science disciplines. For example, there is not agreement about who the “public” includes or how to measure public values. If values are to be used in planning, project analysis and policy they must be credible and defensible. As there are no agreed upon standards for measuring values, basic research is needed to understand the validity of the theory and methods used to measure values.
3. Multi-stakeholder collaboration in resource management and conflict mitigation.
Greater social diversity produces greater diversity in values and expectations resulting in conflicts over the management of public lands and resources. Regional social and economic changes are driven by various social and biophysical forces including social and economic globalization, global climate change, technological change, as well as region and landscape specific factors such as migration and immigration. Natural resource values, valuation, and conflict in the western U.S., for example, is affected by: (1) various parts of the West becoming socially more urban and suburban; (2) rural mountain communities transforming into amenity (i.e., recreation and retirement) based communities; (3) migration and immigration throughout the region increasing economic, cultural, and linguistic diversity; (4) economic growth concentrating around high-tech and amenity related service industries and away from resource extractive industries; (5) rural communities, traditionally dependent on extractive industries, struggling as the balance of forest uses shifts away from ranching, timber, mining etc. and toward preservation, tourism, and locally driven recreation; and (6) general population increases making water, transportation, sprawl/ecological fragmentation, and open-space preservation even more acute issues.
4. Socio-economic drivers behind ecosystem change and societal responses to forest and rangeland ecosystem management.
Humans (their values, uses, communities) do not exist apart from natural resources; nor do natural resource values, uses, and their management exist apart from humans. People organize in many ways (e.g., individuals, groups, communities) and at multiple temporal and spatial scales all of which must be better understood and considered. Some issues and concerns must address individuals while others must consider groups and or communities. What people do, what they know and care about, what values and perceptions they hold, and what they find acceptable affects natural resources and are affected by natural resource management. This has long been evident and there has been work on aspects of this problem in the past. However, there is incomplete understanding of the complex interactions between human values and uses and natural resources as well as how these interactions vary at multiple temporal and spatial scales.
Dan Williams, Dan McCollum, Brian Kent, Chris Stalling
USDA Forest Service - RMRS - Project Name