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Place, Collaboration and Science in Forest Planning and Ecosystem Management

Over the past decade the practice of public sector natural resource planning has undergone a paradigm shift. This shift involves replacing the long-standing multiple-use commodity paradigm with a more integrated and temporally and spatially multi-scaled ecosystem management strategy that emphasizes collaborative, adaptive, multi-stakeholder approaches to resource planning and decision making. Within this new management context, once dominant models used to explain public (nonmarket) uses and values of natural landscapes – anchored in consumer theories from economics and social psychology – are being revised to address the elusive mix of historical, emotional, and symbolic value conflicts that come to the surface in the changing climate of collaborative ecosystem management. These challenges are being addressed in three intertwined research efforts: assessing sense of place, enhancing place-based collaborative practices, the understanding the shifting and contested role of science in planning.

The first effort focuses on measures and assessments of social and symbolic meanings and values or sense of place and understanding of how these meanings and values are shaped by and, in turn, shape social and ecological changes across the landscape. Understanding how place meanings are created and transmitted through society is valuable to public natural resource agencies as they attempt to extend traditional management systems based on expert knowledge to emerging management systems based on collaborative planning (in which resource managers become participants and facilitators in a process of negotiating the meaning and use of specific landscapes). This research has addressed sense of place as an integrative concept for the human dimensions of ecosystem management and has been incorporated into regional ecosystems assessments such as the Interior Columbia River Basin Ecosystem Assessment Project and other place-based social assessments in forest planning.

The second theme involves the development and evaluation of emerging collaborative planning practices in natural resource planning and decision making. Like economic valuation, collaboration is a social process for organizing, ordering, and/or choosing among goods. Emerging theories of planning recognize that these ordering processes are carried out through a multitude of social institutions including markets, governance, and legal institutions. Embedded in these institutions are myriad social practices, including various forms of education, science and research, communication, and collaboration. The work below examines the conceptual development of place-based collaboration in natural resource management. See also Collaborative Capacity in Community Wildfire Protection Planning for case studies in collaboration.

Selected Publications

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  • Williams, D. R. (2002). Post-utilitarian forestry: What's place got to do with it? In Proceedings of the Human Dimensions of Natural Resources in the West Conference (Alta, WY, October 18-21, pp. 114-123). Fort Collins , CO : Human Dimensions Unit, College of Natural Resources , Colorado State University.
  • Williams, D. R., & M. E. Patterson (1996). Environmental meaning and ecosystem management: Perspectives from environmental psychology and human geography. Society and Natural Resources , 9(5) , 507-521.

Discussion Papers report work in progress. They are written to share ideas, concepts, and theories as well as preliminary empirical data, and have not been peer reviewed or approved for publication. Comments are welcome.

The third area of investigation focuses on the nature and role of science in natural resource planning and decision making. Science has been a particularly important social practice in natural resource decision making. Initial research on this topic sought to evaluate the use of qualitative methods in social science and their application in natural resource contexts. More recent work has sought to understand the disciplinary, political, and legal influences on the practice and application of science in natural resource management. The goal of this research is to help managers understand the role of these knowledge building practices and institutions in pursuing open, fair, and democratic decision making in natural resource management. This work is ongoing but research on the practice of social science in natural resource management can be found below.

Selected Publications

To view PDF files, you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader, available free of charge from Adobe's website.

  • Patterson, M. E., Montag, J. M., & Williams, D. R. (2003). Urbanisation of wildlife management: Social Science, conflict, and decision making. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 1 , 171-183.
  • Patterson, M. E., & Williams, D. R. (1998). Paradigms and problems: The practice of social science in natural resource management. Society and Natural Resources, 11 , 279-295.


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