Table of Contents
ISRN Forestry
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 594067, 10 pages
Research Article

Public Acceptance of Disturbance-Based Forest Management: Factors Influencing Support

1Department of Forest Ecosystems & Society, Oregon State University, 321 Richardson Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA
2Forestry Division, Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation, 2705 Spurgin Road, Missoula, MT 59804, USA

Received 9 March 2012; Accepted 10 April 2012

Academic Editors: D. Czeszczewik, D. Huber, and B. Schirone

Copyright © 2012 Christine S. Olsen et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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) on the Willamette National Forest in the McKenzie River watershed of western Oregon. As scientists and managers work to unravel the ecological and economic implications of disturbance-based forest management, they must also consider public acceptance for such an approach. In this study, citizen opinions from the local attentive public in McKenzie River watershed communities are examined. Results suggest the attentive public has moderate to low levels of knowledge about landscape-level disturbance processes and terms. Further, public confidence in agencies and the information they provide appears to be low, though respondents indicated a somewhat higher level of trust for local agency personnel than agencies as institutions. Overall, respondents display cautious support of disturbance-based management (DBM), but many are still undecided. Findings also demonstrate support may be improved through transparent and inclusive decision-making processes that demonstrate the use of sound science in project planning, frank disclosure of risks and uncertainties, and clear management objectives.

In recent decades, federal forest management in the Pacific Northwest has shifted from a focus on sustained-yield timber harvest through dispersed and aggregated patch clearcutting to a system of management based on static land allocations laid out by the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. However, growing emphasis on ecosystem and landscape management has spurred interest in alternative management strategies that focus on dynamic natural processes [13]. One such method is the use of historical disturbance as a guide for ecosystem management, which involves applying information about past natural disturbances to inform practices such as timber harvest, prescribed burning, or wildfire suppression [4]. This coarse-filter approach to conservation—known variously as disturbance-based management (DBM), emulation of natural disturbance, and management guided by a historical range of variability—is based upon the principle that plant and animal communities that evolved under dynamic ecosystem conditions will be most resilient and productive under management scenarios which emulate natural disturbance regimes [5, 6].

As scientists and managers examine the ecological and economic implications of disturbance-based management, they must also consider public acceptance for such an approach. Social acceptability, also referred to as public acceptance or cultural adoptability, is defined as the public’s willingness to tolerate the use of specific management practices at least occasionally and in carefully selected areas [79]. Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of understanding the role of citizen values and attitudes in ecosystem management [1012]. Decisions based solely on biological science can lead to policy failures; for this reason, ecological research must be supplemented with investigations into relevant social perspectives of forest management processes and practices [13]. Indeed, recent examination of the increased implementation of disturbance-based management in North America suggests that the greatest barriers to its success may be associated with public acceptance [14].

This research examined attitudes of the local attentive public toward disturbance-based management and the agencies applying it. For purposes of this study, local attentive public was defined as citizens in the McKenzie River watershed who had demonstrated past interest in local forest issues to local land management agencies through attendance at agency planning meetings, participation in field trips, submission of input during public comment periods, or requested additional information from federal land management agencies. The local attentive public was targeted with the expectation that knowledge of and interest in ecosystem management would be higher in this cohort, an assumption supported by previous research in the region [15, 16]. These individuals are often more involved in citizen participation activities than the general public [17, 18] and thus are the first to respond to these initiatives. They represent an important stakeholder group in that they have a prominent role in social networks within the region.

This study encompassed three main objectives: (1) examine attentive public knowledge of and acceptance for disturbance-based management and the forest agencies that implement these practices, (2) explore public concerns pertaining to the risk and uncertainty inherent to a disturbance-based approach, and (3) examine potential barriers to future implementation of this approach.

1.1. Study Area

The study area includes communities in the McKenzie River watershed on the western slope of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon (Figure 1), where historical disturbance regimes are used as a model for forest management activities as part of the Blue River Landscape Study (BRLS) [19]. The BRLS is an area designated for joint experimentation by the Willamette National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management, Eugene district, and the stated purpose is to achieve the objectives of the Northwest Forest Plan (late-successional habitat, aquatic ecosystems, and sustainable timber production) by modeling management activities using historical disturbance patterns [19]. Cissel et al. [1] suggest that the BRLS is well suited for the fire regime emulation approach, where it has potential to produce positive impacts on ecosystem health and diversity and can be particularly useful in informing reserve design for habitat protection and species conservation.

Figure 1

Research in innovative ecosystem management approaches has a long history in the McKenzie River watershed. The H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest was established in 1948, on one of the tributaries to the McKenzie River. Pioneering research on the structure and function of old-growth forest ecosystems has been going on at the Experimental Forest for over forty years [20, 21]. The BRLS is one example of this research [22].

The McKenzie River watershed is home to a number of small communities as well as many popular outdoor recreation sites along the river and on upland forests. At the confluence of the Willamette and McKenzie Rivers lies Eugene/Springfield, with a combined population of over 200,000 people. The upriver population of the watershed is generally comprised of people employed in either recreation or extraction based natural resource economies, residents who commute to jobs in the Eugene/Springfield area, and a growing number of retirees. Residents use the Willamette National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands frequently for recreation purposes—particularly the nationally acclaimed McKenzie River Trail—and a majority claims to pay a moderate or great deal of attention to forestry issues [23]. Furthermore, studies of citizen perspectives in the area have shown residents greatly value participation in planning processes undertaken by the two federal forest management agencies [15, 16].

Experiments and projects on federal lands within the watershed have benefited from collaborative efforts and positive relationships between scientists and managers working in the Andrews Forest, Bureau of Land Management, the nearby McKenzie River Ranger District, and the Willamette National Forest headquarters in Eugene. Public support for such research has been demonstrated in a previous study of citizens in the McKenzie River Watershed [23], where two-thirds of the participants agreed with scientific experimentation in forest ecosystems. However, support for the theoretical phases of project planning does not automatically translate into support for on-the-ground implementation.

Although research suggests numerous ecological benefits to a disturbance-based management approach in the McKenzie watershed [1], whether or not this specific approach is acceptable to citizens is largely unknown. Research has shown that other management paradigms, particularly clearcutting, are unacceptable to a large portion of the public across the US and in the Pacific Northwest [24, 25]. More recently, a study from British Columbia on citizens’ preferences for harvest patterns suggests that the public generally supports large contiguous harvest blocks with even, green-tree retention (a pattern consistent with some disturbance-based management techniques) over small, dispersed blocks but does not specifically inquire about public acceptance of disturbance-based management strategies [26]. Duncan et al. [27] contend that historic range of variability together with future range of variability—the estimated effect of biophysical forces on future ecological conditions—may be useful in framing the discussion about which land management decisions are socially acceptable and which are to be avoided.

1.2. Related Research

The concept of social acceptability was first defined by Firey [28] as one of the three pillars of natural resource management, sharing equal importance with economic feasibility and ecological possibility as critical characteristics of long-term, sustainable resource management policies. Many managers see value in working towards increased public acceptance of management strategies today, but how this is done is a complex pursuit, as it is based upon a number of contextual factors under which ecosystem management takes place. Shindler [29] identifies three such factors which influence public acceptability, all of which have relevance to a DBM approach: how citizens relate to spatial context (e.g., attention to specific places such as popular recreation sites, scenic vistas, or the forests where people work), their view of temporal context (e.g., changes over time to familiar places, how soon until a potential risk is likely to occur, and time until results of management activities are known), and social context (e.g., quality of decision-making processes, perceived risks, and uncertainties of management activities).

Knowledge of ecological problems and potential solutions (management practices) is another factor that previous studies suggest influences overall public acceptance [30, 31]. In what is sometimes called the knowledge-deficit model, an increase in knowledge is correlated with an increase in attitude or support across most fields [32, 33]. Research indicates that when public knowledge of management approaches is low, it is critical to spell out the intended objectives and potential outcomes, cast management practices in the appropriate context, be explicit about the specific actions to be taken, and identify exactly where and when activities will be undertaken [12]. With respect to strategies intended to emulate natural conditions, McCool and Guthrie [34] point out that a greater level of knowledge about ecological processes is necessary among citizens who are poised to evaluate these strategies. Most often, this group is local citizens.

Another critical element in public acceptance of ecosystem management programs is the level of trust in agency managers as well as experiences the public has with these individuals [3538]. Steel et al. [39] found that rural residents dependent upon the timber industry displayed more trust in agencies such as the Forest Service and BLM, while urban residents generally displayed less trust in these organizations. Other research has indicated that citizens often display more trust in local managers and agencies than they do in these institutions at the regional or national level [40]. Research has also found that trust is linked to citizens’ perceptions of the risks, uncertainties and potential benefits associated with specific management approaches [38], or experiences with management practices gone awry, such as escaped prescribed burns [41].

Public acceptance and trust are also related to local communication processes. Confidence in agency information often depends less upon the content of the information itself and more on the credibility of the information provider [42, 43]. Peters et al. [44] assert that public trust in information sources hinges upon a perception of agency care for and commitment to citizens’ needs and priorities as well as the perception that information providers are knowledgeable and credible. Olsen and Shindler [45] maintain that such trust and confidence is most likely to evolve over the long term, suggesting that meaningful interactions with the local public need to be developed well before proposed projects are implemented.

In the context of new and innovative management approaches such as disturbance-based management practices, public confidence in an agency’s ability to manage effectively will be essential to implementation. Liljeblad et al. [46] assert that a key element to building trust between citizens and agencies is not just the outcome of management decisions but commitment to a fair and open decision-making process and the perception that managers can be effective at implementing the chosen range of outcomes. Recent studies from Oregon show that most of the attentive public desires a greater role in federal forest management decision-making [45]. Learning how to create and sustain positive interactions with citizens has become a primary directive of federal forest agencies. Successful interactions might be defined in a number of ways, including the creation of opportunities for open give-and-take discussions, giving credence to local concerns about particular places and practices, a commitment to ongoing relationships between agencies and the public, and managers following through on their word [34, 47]. The formation of long-term relationships can provide the foundation for future successes in project planning and decision-making [45].

The results presented in this paper represent the second phase of research in this community. The first phase included focus group field trips in the study area [48]. Field trips took place on two days during spring 2005. The first field trip included 19 personnel (15 managers, 4 researchers) from the Willamette National Forest, Eugene District BLM, and H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest. Participants visited three sites that had harvesting treatments designed to emulate various fire regimes.

The second field trip included nine members of the attentive public from McKenzie River communities, with eight agency personnel along to describe treatments of each site. Citizen participants were selected based on their status as leaders within their communities or as individuals interested in forest issues in the McKenzie River watershed. These individuals included business leaders, private landowners, and members of the McKenzie Watershed Council. Forest Service personnel who were familiar with communities in the McKenzie helped to identify and recruit participants for the tour. Participants on this trip visited two sites demonstrating the disturbance-based management approach.

Themes identified during the focus groups were used to develop the 8-page mail questionnaire examined in this paper. Survey questions addressed respondents’ knowledge of forest management in general and disturbance processes in particular, opinions about management practices, support for disturbance-based management, and interactions with federal agencies for implementation of this approach. The survey instrument was pretested on several experts in the field of forest social science and revised prior to administration based on feedback.

The survey was distributed to the local attentive public in the McKenzie watershed according to a modified “tailored design method” [49], including three waves of a survey packet with cover letter, questionnaire, and stamped addressed return envelope enclosed. The attentive public was chosen as a population because it is characterized by a higher level of citizen participation in government than the general public [17, 18], a characteristic that was important for this study because the subject matter of the survey required a respondent audience with a sophisticated level of knowledge on the topic. While the attentive public does not represent the general public, it can be a meaningful population for agency personnel to understand because these are the individuals who are likely to pay attention to or participate in agency programs. To achieve as broad a sample of the attentive public as possible, names and addresses were drawn from three different sources: (1) an existing Forest Service list of individuals who requested information about management activities or attended public meetings or field trips; (2) the newsletter mailing list for the McKenzie Watershed Council; a (3) mailing list developed by Oregon State University researchers studying public perceptions across the region. Only residents of the McKenzie watershed and Eugene/Springfield were included in the sample.

Overall, 312 surveys were delivered and 230 were returned, resulting in a response rate of 74%. Market research analysis indicates this level of response to be sufficiently high to make inferences to our larger study population of the local attentive public in the McKenzie River watershed [50]. Therefore, no nonresponse bias check was completed.

Survey results confirm that citizens who participated in this study are members of the attentive public—94% reported they pay a moderate to great deal of attention to forest issues. Study findings are presented in the following sections: (1) knowledge of DBM-related terms and ecosystem processes, (2) concerns with and support for DBM, (3) citizen-agency interactions and trust, (4) and factors influencing support for management. In some cases categories have been collapsed for presentation purposes (i.e., agree and strongly agree combined into a single category, agree).

3.1. Knowledge of DBM-Related Terms and Ecosystem Processes

Participants’ knowledge of DBM terms was assessed by asking whether they knew the meaning of a term, had heard the term but did not know the meaning, or if they had never heard it. Knowledge of ecosystem processes related to DBM was assessed through a series of true/false statements. Results for these knowledge questions are presented in Table 1. At this point in the survey, subjects had received no introduction to the concept of DBM. Findings indicate that the majority of respondents are not familiar with most DBM-related terms. Indeed, nearly 30% of respondents indicated that they had never heard the term “disturbance-based management.” Demonstrated knowledge about disturbance events was correct for nearly all respondents, but fewer respondents were sure about the reliance of plant and animals on disturbance, and almost half (47%) of respondents were incorrect or not sure about the use of management techniques to emulate natural events in a DBM approach.

Table 1: Knowledge of DBM-related terms and ecosystem processes (percent).

3.2. Concerns with and Support for DBM

Prior to asking questions about support for DBM, survey participants were given the following definition of how DBM would be applied in the local forest.

The BRLS proposes managing large forest areas (such as an entire watershed) by planning at a landscape level. Under this approach, managers base their plans on natural disturbance events like wildfire, landslides, wind, and floods that have occurred over time. The idea is to use harvesting techniques to create openings of various sizes similar to those created by historical events.’’

After receiving this definition, respondents were asked about potential risks or concerns they might associate with the use of disturbance-based practices in the local watershed (Table 2). The largest number of respondents (88%) expressed concern that national politics would continue to change forest management priorities, suggesting that managers may not have sufficient time to implement DBM. Other prominent concerns included the following: (1) the possibility that disturbance-based management could lead to harvesting in old-growth stands (70%), (2) trusting agencies to make good decisions (69%), and (3) it might be used as an excuse to justify over harvesting (61%). Over half of respondents also worried that not enough science would be incorporated into decisions, and that this management approach would lead to additional road building in forests.

Table 2: Perceived risks or concerns associated with DBM (percent).

Respondents were also asked to indicate their level of agreement with a series of support and confidence statements about management plans and managing agencies in the context of emulating historical disturbance over large blocks of federal forest land (Table 3). Three-quarters of respondents indicated they would tend to support disturbance-based management plans that were adequately reviewed by scientists and also that their support would hinge upon the type of harvesting techniques that were planned.

Table 3: Support for and confidence in management plans and managing agencies (percent).

When asked specifically about disturbance-based management (third statement), 58% of respondents indicated support for this approach; overall, more than a one in five also expressed uncertainty about this same question. Slightly more than half expressed confidence that managers have sufficient knowledge of ecosystems to carry out this approach. Nearly one-third of respondents expressed concern about economic losses from management choices that leave live and dead trees behind.

3.3. Citizen-Agency Interactions and Trust

Respondents were also questioned about the nature of their interactions with federal forest managers on a 4-point scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (4). They were also given the option to indicate that they had no basis for opinion. Results are displayed in Table 4 in two thematic areas: (1) citizen-agency communication and (2) openness and relationship building.

Table 4: Interactions with Forest Service and BLM (percent).

Overall, opinions about interactions in both categories are generally unfavorable. For all but one of the communication category elements, less than half of respondents reported a satisfactory experience. In two cases, a substantial number of individuals were unable to render an opinion about interactions with the agencies. In the area of openness and relationship building, the single statement garnering the most agreement (64%) was about trusting local Forest Service personnel, but believing national-level politics may inhibit their ability to do their job—on balance, not a particularly positive response. Perhaps most striking is that only 34% of respondents believe that forest managers effectively build trust and cooperation with local citizens.

Survey participants were also asked to rate their level of trust in natural resources management agencies on the scale from 1 = no trust to 4 = full trust, with a not sure response option. Results are displayed in Table 5. Respondents displayed the greatest trust in local Forest Service personnel at the local ranger district (71%). A majority (59%) felt the US Forest Service was trustworthy, while respondents displayed the least trust in the Bureau of Land Management (46%). These findings on trust in the Forest Service and BLM are lower than those found by Williams [15] in a similar survey of the attentive public in the same watershed.

Table 5: Trust in natural resource agencies (percent).

3.4. Factors Influencing Support for Management

Respondents were asked how important a variety of factors were to their support for forest management actions and decisions on a scale from 1 = not important to 4 = very important. The list of factors was developed based on prior interviews in the area. Results are displayed in Table 6. Understanding management objectives of the proposed action, the environmental consequences of an action, and knowing that the decision was based on scientific information were all important or very important to over 90% of respondents. Of slightly less but still quite high importance to respondents was the specific place where an action is planned, understanding how the decision was made, and consideration of knowledgeable people in the community. Of the list provided, only personal beliefs and the length of time before outcomes of an action could be evaluated were important or very important to less than three-quarters of respondents.

Table 6: Importance of factors influencing support for forest management actions and decisions (percent).

To further assess influences on public judgments about disturbance-based management, a bivariate correlation analysis was used to measure the relationship between citizen support for DBM and relevant factors identified from related studies: (1) respondent knowledge of forest management terms [30, 31], (2) past interactions with agencies [36, 45], and (3) trust in agencies [35, 37, 38]. Results are reported in Table 7. Support for DBM was measured using responses about agreement with the statement in Table 3 (“I support the landscape-level historical approach described”). The knowledge of DBM terms variable was created using an index with responses in Table 1 (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.871) and the past interactions (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.864), and trust scale (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.826) variables were created using additive scales with responses from Tables 4 and 5, respectively. Questions were reverse coded when appropriate, and not sure or no basis for opinion responses were excluded.

Table 7: Correlations between support for DBM and respondent characteristics.

Ratings of past interactions with agency personnel and agency trust were positively correlated with support for disturbance-based management, meaning that as the value of these variables increases, so does support for disturbance-based management. Knowledge of DBM terms was not significantly correlated with support.

The purpose of this study was to improve understanding of public acceptance for disturbance-emulating forest management techniques among an important group of stakeholders—the local attentive public. Several findings are noteworthy.

First, findings from this study suggest a substantial proportion of respondents are not well versed in common disturbance-based management terms and concepts, presenting a challenge to agencies working to increase understanding about this approach. For example, the term range of historic variability, often used by managers to refer to disturbance-emulating management approaches, is not familiar to the majority of these attentive public respondents. It is further likely that even fewer general public citizens will have knowledge of this term or the approach it describes. Respondents in this study also indicated that their understanding of the objectives of a proposed action were very influential to their support for a project. These findings support an analysis by Reeves and Duncan [51] which asserts that citizens who have difficulty understanding the dynamic nature of ecosystems or visualizing what disturbance-based management will look like will have lower tolerance for the risk and uncertainty inherent in this approach. Furthermore, a lack of clarity may cause citizens to doubt why disturbance-based management is appropriate or necessary. For this reason, scientists and managers will need to find more direct means to tell the story of disturbance-based management and explain the circumstances under which it may be appropriate. This will be particularly important in the contexts of shifting land use patterns or climate change discussions, as research has suggested that the uncertainty and knowledge gaps prevalent with these topics may detract from public support of disturbance-based management [52].

While low levels of understanding can certainly be a hurdle, results from this study also suggest an opportunity in the large percentages of respondents who simply were not sure about an item or had not heard of the term. Targeted outreach efforts that seek to increase awareness and understanding about DBM may lead to a more informed public. At the same time, the correlation results do not support the knowledge-deficit theory, even though respondents suggested understanding was important to them. Therefore, while increasing awareness of and understanding about DBM may result in a more informed public that is easier to engage on the topic, managers should take caution that this alone will not automatically translate into increased support and acceptance of DBM plans [12].

Second, these findings show a substantial association between support for disturbance-based management and positive interactions with and trust in agency personnel among the respondents, suggesting attempts to increase knowledge of this approach be preceded and accompanied by more collaborative activities among community stakeholders. However, it is clear that trustworthy relations between the public and agency personnel remain problematic. While previous research shows gains have been made elsewhere in the region by focusing attention on public outreach and partnership arrangements [15, 16, 47], citizens in this survey rate agency efforts to foster trust and communication in a less positive light. Moreover, respondents expressed skepticism about the openness of forest managers, use of public input, and their ability to provide reliable information to the public. Citizens’ levels of trust in both the US Forest Service and the BLM are relatively low. Perhaps even more noteworthy is the substantial number of respondents who had no basis for opinions about interactions with agency personnel, suggesting that even citizens who pay attention to forest issues actually have had few occasions to meet or communicate directly with local Forest Service and BLM staff. This offers managers an opportunity to reach out to the “undecideds” by engaging them in meaningful educational opportunities about disturbance-based management while simultaneously fostering relationships.

Overall, the low trust ratings found in this study suggest the need for a more inclusive planning process. This means treating trust building as a central, long-term goal, not simply as an activity that is pursued on a per-project basis to smooth the way for controversial management objectives [45, 53]. For disturbance-based management to succeed, an atmosphere of learning together through face-to-face interaction among stakeholders seems essential [54]. This will necessarily include managers, researchers, and members of the attentive public who represent numerous points of view and can carry the message (positive or negative) to a wider group of constituents.

Results from this local sample of citizens also suggest that establishing and maintaining positive interactions within the community will also be critical to addressing public concerns about risks and uncertainties associated with a disturbance-based approach. The public’s willingness to accept forest management practices is determined in part by their understanding of the risks and uncertainties associated with those practices—especially those which, like disturbance-based management, are unfamiliar or untested [31]. In this effort it will benefit agencies to be forthcoming about difficult decisions and the choices involved. An open discussion about risk creates a chance for managers and scientists to clarify the seriousness of a specific threat and the tradeoffs of available options.

A third point is a potential barrier to future implementation of disturbance-based management—respondents indicated a high level of concern that national politics will influence agency policies towards this approach. Citizens’ concerns correspond with the sentiment frequently expressed by agency scientists and managers that it is difficult to manage forests for the long term when political priorities sometimes change every four years. These findings concur with past research showing that while citizens may trust their local Ranger District to design plans and projects, they may not trust the federal government to let personnel make good on these decisions [40, 55].

A related point is that any timber harvest is a prominent concern for these respondents, and the potential for excessive thinning, increased road building, and fear of harvesting in old-growth stands will have to be addressed. Research scientists potentially have an important role in addressing citizens’ concerns here, as survey participants expressed a high level of support for projects that demonstrate the use of sound science. Although many scientists are reluctant to join debate in the public arena, the strong research presence at experimental forests across the country presents a unique opportunity for scientists to interact with the local public, where they may help to frame discussions about risk and uncertainty associated with disturbance-based management.

Local attentive citizens in this study have yet to take a definitive position of support for disturbance-based management, yet results indicate support will be the product of several factors. One contributing factor identified in this research is that participants may be hesitant to express support if they feel that agencies cannot be trusted. Lack of communication from an agency on a particular issue could be interpreted as an indication that there is something to hide [35]. Improving these circumstances will involve inclusive and worthwhile outreach activities that demonstrate agency credibility and the science supporting disturbance-based management. A second contributing factor is that these respondents do not have a full understanding of the approach on which to base their judgments, revealing a big opportunity for engaging and informing those who are undecided. However, we know it is not simply a matter of “educating the public,” rather attempts to increase awareness need to be thoughtfully developed to allow relationship building and possibly increase some of that trust which this and many other studies suggest is lacking. Third, these respondents may simply be waiting to see the outcomes of further DBM experiments before deciding. It could be worthwhile for managers and scientists to communicate research results widely among local citizens, providing critical information the public may feel is lacking.

As is the case for many natural resources issues, a two-level approach could be useful here. General information dispersal can help address the apparent lack of knowledge about DBM that many have expressed, while also demonstrating that the managing agencies have relevant scientific information guiding planning and decision-making. At the same time, focused information programs that provide greater opportunity for interaction, relationship building, and trust building can keep engaged those citizens who wish to be. Together, the end result of this two-level approach may be a more knowledgeable public and a greater level of acceptance and support for disturbance-based management.


The authors would like to acknowledge Dr. Fred Swanson, the personnel at H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest, the Willamette National Forest, and citizens in the McKenzie River watershed for their participation in this study. They thank Keith Olsen for creating the cartographic image. They would also like to thank three reviewers for providing constructive comments that improved the quality of this paper. This research was funded by the Joint Fire Science Program, the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, and the Willamette National Forest.


  1. J. H. Cissel, F. J. Swanson, and P. J. Weisberg, “Landscape management using historical fire regimes: Blue River, Oregon,” Ecological Applications, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 1217–1231, 1999. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  2. A. S. Mori, “Ecosystem management based on natural disturbances: hierarchical context and non-equilibrium paradigm,” Journal of Applied Ecology, vol. 48, no. 2, pp. 280–292, 2011. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  3. R. Parsons, P. Morgan, and P. Landres, “Applying the natural variability concept: towards desired future conditions,” in Ecosystem Management of Forested Landscapes: Directions and Implementations, R. G. D'Econ, J. F. Johnson, and E. A. Ferguson, Eds., pp. 222–237, Nelson, Canada, October 1998.
  4. A. H. Perera and L. J. Buse, “Emulating natural disturbance in forest management: an overview,” in Emulating Natural Forest Landscape Disturbance: Concepts and Applications, A. H. Perera, L. J. Buse, and M. G. Weber, Eds., Columbia University Press, New York, NY, USA, 2004. View at Google Scholar
  5. M. L. Hunter, “Natural fire regimes as spatial models for managing boreal forests,” Biological Conservation, vol. 65, no. 2, pp. 115–120, 1993. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  6. F. J. Swanson, J. A. Jones, D. O. Wallin, and J. H. Cissel, “Natural variability: implications for ecosystem management,” in Volume II: Ecosystem Management: Principles and Applications, M. E. Jensen and P. S. Bourgeron, Eds., pp. 80–94, USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Ore, USA, 1994. View at Google Scholar
  7. M. W. Brunson, “A definition of "social acceptability" in ecosystem management,” in Defining Social Acceptability in Ecosystem Management, M. Brunson, L. Kruger, C. Tyler, and S. Schroeder, Eds., pp. 7–16, Portland, Ore, USA, 1996.
  8. M. W. Brunson and B. A. Shindler, “Geographic variation in social acceptability of wildland fuels management in the western United States,” Society and Natural Resources, vol. 17, no. 8, pp. 661–678, 2004. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  9. B. Shindler, R. Gordon, M. W. Brunson, and C. Olsen, “Public perceptions of sagebrush ecosystem management in the great basin,” Rangeland Ecology and Management, vol. 64, no. 4, pp. 335–343, 2011. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  10. P. H. Gobster, “Forest aesthetics, biodiversity, and the perceived appropriateness of ecosystem management practices,” in Defining Social Acceptability in Ecosystem Management, M. W. Brunson, L. E. Kruger, C. B. Tyler, and S. A. Schroeder, Eds., pp. 77–97, Kelso, Wash, USA, 1996.
  11. R. E. Grumbine, “What is ecosystem management?” Conservation Biology, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 27–38, 1994. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  12. G. H. Stankey and B. Shindler, “Formation of social acceptability judgments and their implications for management of rare and little-known species,” Conservation Biology, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 28–37, 2006. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  13. J. Endter-Wada, D. Blahna, R. Krannich, and M. Brunson, “A framework for understanding social science contributions to ecosystem management,” Ecological Applications, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 891–904, 1998. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  14. J. N. Long, “Emulating natural disturbance regimes as a basis for forest management: a North American view,” Forest Ecology and Management, vol. 257, no. 9, pp. 1868–1873, 2009. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  15. R. Williams, Public knowledge, preferences and involvement in adaptive ecosystem management, thesis, Oregon State University, 2001.
  16. A. S. Wright, Citizen knowledge and opinions about watershed management in the South Santiam Basin in Oregon, thesis, Oregon State University, 2000.
  17. B. Barber, Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age, University of California Press, Berkeley, Calif, USA, 1984.
  18. W. M. Lunch, The Nationalization of American Politics, University of California Press, Berkeley, Calif, USA, 1987.
  19. Cascade Center, “The Cascade Center for Ecosystem Management: A world class forest research and management partnership,” Cascade Center, 2003,
  20. Andrews Experimental Forest LTER, “Andrews Experimental Forest,” Andrews Experimental Forest LTER, 2002,
  21. FEMAT, “Forest ecosystem management: an ecological, economic, and social assessment,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service, US. Department of the Interior National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Portland, Ore, USA, 1993.
  22. V. Rapp, “Dynamic landscape management. Science Update 3,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, Ore, USA, 2003.
  23. B. Shindler, P. List, and B. Steel, “Public judgments of adaptive management: a response from forest communities,” Journal of Forestry, vol. 94, no. 6, pp. 4–12, 1996. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  24. J. C. Bliss, “Public perceptions of clearcutting,” Journal of Forestry, vol. 98, no. 12, pp. 4–9, 2000. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  25. R. G. Ribe and M. Y. Matteson, “Views of old forestry and new among reference groups in the Pacific Northwest,” Western Journal of Applied Forestry, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 173–182, 2002. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  26. M. J. Meitner, R. Gandy, and R. G. D'Eon, “Human perceptions of forest fragmentation: implications for natural disturbance management,” Forestry Chronicle, vol. 81, no. 2, pp. 256–264, 2005. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  27. S. L. Duncan, B. C. McComb, and K. N. Johnson, “Integrating ecological and social ranges of variability in conservation of biodiversity: past, present, and future,” Ecology and Society, vol. 15, no. 1, 2010. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  28. W. Firey, Man, Mind and Land: A Theory of Resource Use, The Free Press, Glencoe, Ill, USA, 1960.
  29. B. Shindler, “Landscape-level management: it's all about context,” Journal of Forestry, vol. 98, no. 12, pp. 10–14, 2000. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  30. R. L. Ryan, M. B. Wamsley, and B. P. Blanchard, “Perceptions of wildfire threat and mitigation measures by residents of fire-prone communities in the Northeast: survey results and wildland fire management implications,” in The Public and Wildland Fire Management: Social Science Findings for Managers, S. McCaffrey, Ed., pp. 11–17, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Newtown Square, Pa, USA, 2006. View at Google Scholar
  31. B. R. Weisshaupt, M. S. Carroll, K. A. Blatner, W. D. Robinson, and P. J. Jakes, “Acceptability of smoke from prescribed forest burning in the northern Inland West: a focus group approach,” Journal of Forestry, vol. 103, no. 4, pp. 189–193, 2005. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  32. J. Hansen, L. Holm, L. Frewer, P. Robinson, and P. Sandøe, “Beyond the knowledge deficit: recent research into lay and expert attitudes to food risks,” Appetite, vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 111–121, 2003. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  33. P. M. Kellstedt, S. Zahran, and A. Vedlitz, “Personal efficacy, the information environment, and attitudes toward global warming and climate change in the United States,” Risk Analysis, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 113–126, 2008. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  34. S. F. McCool and K. Guthrie, “Mapping the dimensions of successful public participation in messy natural resources management situations,” Society and Natural Resources, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 309–323, 2001. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  35. M. Brunson, “Gauging the acceptability of fuels management: a matter of trust,” Rural Connect, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 2–4, 2008. View at Google Scholar
  36. S. McCaffrey, “Prescribed fire: what influences public approval?” in Fire in Eastern Oak Forests: Delivering Science to Land Managers, M. B. Dickinson, Ed., pp. 192–198, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Newtown Square, Pa, USA, 2006. View at Google Scholar
  37. J. J. Vaske, J. D. Absher, and A. D. Bright, “Salient value similarity, social trust and attitudes toward wildland fire management strategies,” Human Ecology Review, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 223–232, 2007. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  38. G. Winter, C. A. Vogt, and S. McCaffrey, “Examining social trust in fuels management strategies,” Journal of Forestry, vol. 102, no. 6, pp. 8–15, 2004. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  39. B. Steel, B. Shindler, and M. Brunson, “Social acceptability of ecosystem management in the Pacific Northwest,” in Ecosystems Management: A Social Science Perspective, D. L. Soden, B. L. Lamb, and J. R. Tennert, Eds., Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, Dubuque, Iowa, USA, 1998. View at Google Scholar
  40. M. A. Davenport, J. E. Leahy, D. H. Anderson, and P. J. Jakes, “Building trust in natural resource management within local communities: a case study of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie,” Environmental Management, vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 353–368, 2007. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  41. M. W. Brunson and J. Evans, “Badly burned? Effects of an escaped prescribed burn on social acceptability of wildland fuels treatments,” Journal of Forestry, vol. 103, no. 3, pp. 134–138, 2005. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  42. S. E. Binney, R. Mason, S. W. Martsolf, and J. H. Detweiler, “Credibility, public trust, and the transport of radioactive waste through local communities,” Environment and Behavior, vol. 28, no. 3, pp. 283–301, 1996. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  43. S. M. McCaffrey, “Fighting fire with education: what is the best way to reach out to homeowners?” Journal of Forestry, vol. 102, no. 5, pp. 12–19, 2004. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  44. R. G. Peters, V. T. Covello, and D. B. McCallum, “The determinants of trust and credibility in environmental risk communication: an empirical study,” Risk Analysis, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 43–54, 1997. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  45. C. S. Olsen and B. A. Shindler, “Trust, acceptance, and citizen-agency interactions after large fires: influences on planning processes,” International Journal of Wildland Fire, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 137–147, 2010. View at Google Scholar
  46. A. Lijeblad, W. T. Borrie, and A. E. Watson, “Determinants of trust for public lands: fire and fuels management on the bitterroot national forest,” Environmental Management, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 571–584, 2009. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  47. E. L. Toman, B. Shindler, J. Absher, and S. McCaffrey, “Postfire communications: the influence of site visits on local support,” Journal of Forestry, vol. 106, no. 1, pp. 25–30, 2008. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  48. B. Shindler and A. L. Mallon, “Public acceptance of disturbance-based forest management: a study of the Blue River Landscape strategy in the central cascades adaptive management area,” USDA Forest Service - Research Paper PNW-RP, no. 581, pp. 1–42, 2009. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  49. D. A. Dillman, Mail and Internet Surveys: The Tailored Design Method, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY, USA, 2007.
  50. D. R. Lehman, Market Research and Analysis, Irwin, Homewood, Ill, USA, 1989.
  51. G. H. Reeves and S. L. Duncan, “Ecological history vs. social expectations: managing aquatic ecosystems,” Ecology and Society, vol. 14, no. 2, 2009. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  52. J. R. Thompson, S. L. Duncan, and K. N. Johnson, “Is there potential for the historical range of variability to guide conservation given the social range of variability?” Ecology and Society, vol. 14, no. 1, 2009. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  53. C. S. Olsen and B. A. Shindler, “Citizen-agency interactions in planning and decisionmaking after large fires,” USDA Forest Service - General Technical Report PNW-GTR, no. 715, pp. 1–40, 2007. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  54. E. Toman, B. Shindler, and M. Brunson, “Fire and fuel management communication strategies: citizen evaluations of agency outreach activities,” Society and Natural Resources, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 321–336, 2006. View at Publisher · View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus
  55. M. A. Davenport, D. H. Anderson, J. E. Leahy, and P. J. Jakes, “Reflections from USDA Forest Service employees on institutional constraints to engaging and serving their local communities,” Journal of Forestry, vol. 105, no. 1, pp. 43–48, 2007. View at Google Scholar · View at Scopus