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Stakeholders’ frames and ecosystem service use in the context of a debate over rebuilding or removing a dam in New Brunswick, Canada

Kate H Reilly, Department of Bioresource Engineering, McGill University
Jan F Adamowski, Department of Bioresource Engineering, McGill University


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As many dams are starting to reach the end of their life spans, discussions about whether they should be retained or removed are becoming more common. Such debates are often controversial, but little is known about stakeholders’ opinions about the issue. We use frame theory to describe how stakeholders perceive a decision on the future of the Mactaquac Dam in New Brunswick, Canada. Frames describe how people make sense of a situation by determining what is important and inside the frame, and what is outside the frame, based on their past experiences and knowledge. We explore whether the benefits that people realize from ecosystems (ecosystem services) influence their frames of dam removal. Based on interviews with 30 stakeholders, we found that participants who preferred to retain the dam aimed to prioritize the social and economic stability of the area, which relied on the ecosystem services provided by the dammed river. They emphasized the quality of the current ecosystem that has developed around the dam and preferred to avoid disturbing it. By contrast, those who preferred to remove the dam framed the decision as an opportunity to restore the ecology and social and economic activities that were present before the dam was built. These frames were influenced by participants’ use of ecosystem services—both focus on the ecosystem services they use, while minimizing the benefits of others. Exploring frames allowed us to uncover the assumptions and biases implicit in their views, and identify topics for education campaigns as well as possible areas of agreement between parties. We conclude that ecosystem services are a relevant source of frames of a decision on a dam’s future.

Key words

dam refurbishment; dam removal; ecosystem services; frames; stakeholders

Copyright © 2017 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