Thesis Title: Climate Change, Forests, and Communities: Identifying the Range of Acceptable Human Interventions in Forested Ecosystems
Abstract: Forest management is presently undergoing major changes to adapt to a changing climate. The objective of this research is to examine the variation in perceived acceptability of potential forest management interventions that can mitigate the risks of climate change among rural forest-based communities in British Columbia (BC) and Alberta. Engaging communities that will be impacted by such changes allows for the formation of forest policy that benefits local users. To accomplish this, four communities were selected for case studies and a mixed method research design was employed. Three management scenarios were designed to represent a spectrum of human intervention in forested ecosystems: continuing the status quo of planting local selectively bred seed; implementing assisted migration of tree populations by utilizing genomic and climatic knowledge; and genetically engineering trees to grow well in a changing climate. Three qualitative focus groups were conducted in each community and an exit Q sort exercise was administered to measure the perceived acceptance of a set of nine forest adaptation management scenarios. In tandem, a survey was administered that collected attitudinal data on social and political issues that were used to identify participants’ cultural worldviews. This data was used to determine if the theory of cultural cognition of risk (CCR) shaped the way participants perceived adaptation strategies.
Results indicate that forester participants perceived the assisted migration-based strategies as relatively less acceptable compared to the other social groups. Environmentalist participants prioritized adaptation strategies that featured mixed species and business participants perceived all of the adaptation strategies more neutrally. Dominant themes that emerged from the qualitative focus group interviews include the notion that there are perceived limits to scientific knowledge, concerns over potential effects to genetic, stand, and landscape-level resilience, and apprehensions about supporting socio-economic values over other values. Cultural cognition of risk was determined to play a role in shaping perceptions of the adaptation strategies in that those who were classified as individualists were most likely to perceive the local-based strategies as acceptable and least likely to perceive the assisted migration-based strategies as acceptable. Conversely, hierarchist participants were more likely to perceive assisted migration-based strategies as acceptable than the other cultural groups. In studying the perceptions of forest-dependent community residents, delivery of forestry-related climate change adaptation policy can be tailored to address the concerns and issues that these communities face.