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Seeing the forest for more than the trees: aesthetic and contextual malleability of preferences for climate change adaptation strategies

Jeffrey Jenkins, Department of Management of Complex Systems, University of California, Merced
Brett Milligan, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design, Department of Human Ecology, University of California, Davis
Yiwei Huang, Department of Human Ecology, University of California, Davis; Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University


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Climate change is still addressed largely through expert-driven processes that rely on large-scale scenarios to transmit knowledge of anticipated trends to land managers and the lay public who are forced to confront and adapt to impacts at the local level. Thus, there is a disconnect between large-scale scenarios and the top-down management paradigm that decision-makers use, and local scenarios and management actions that deal with familiar landscape features in the context of actually existing ecological disturbances and socioeconomic vulnerabilities. Downscaled visual scenarios developed through image alteration of specific landscapes are a useful way of contextualizing and communicating possible outcomes and educating participants about alternative land management strategies. Furthermore, visual imagery can allow for a greater range of information exchange than written or verbal information alone and is a particularly effective tool for conveying knowledge and gathering public opinions among communities with and without scientific backgrounds. We are therefore interested in how visual preferences for adaptive management align with participant’s understandings of functional ecological resiliency and aesthetic form. To investigate this, we detail the development of a visual survey method designed to test community preferences for adaptive management of forest systems in the southern portion of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. For each site-specific scenario, the survey assessed participant’s preferences among three alternative strategies: passive management, traditional restoration practices, and practices that are adaptive to uncertainty and changing outcomes. We asked the following: Does the inclusion of explanatory text with a visual scenario affect management preference? Do preferences differ between respondent professional category? And, how does stated familiarity with place-based landscape management practices affect preferences? Our results show that inclusion of explanatory site background information and narrative text with each strategy image aided in the understanding of and buy-in for adaptive management, which is dependent on place-based context.

Key words

adaptive management; climate change; image alteration; landscape aesthetics; scenario visualization, Sierra Nevada

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087