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Assumptions about Ecological Scale and Nature Knowing Best Hiding in Environmental Decisions

R. Bruce Hull, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
David P Robertson, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Gregory J Buhyoff, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
Erin Seekamp, College of Natural Resources, Virginia Tech
Gregory J Buhyoff, College of Natural Resources, Virginia Tech


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Assumptions about nature are embedded in people’s preferences for environmental policy and management. The people we interviewed justified preservationist policies using four assumptions about nature knowing best: nature is balanced, evolution is progressive, technology is suspect, and the Creation is perfect. They justified interventionist policies using three assumptions about nature: it is dynamic, inefficient, and robust. Unstated assumptions about temporal, spatial, and organizational scales further confuse discussions about nature. These findings confirm and extend findings from previous research. Data for our study were derived from interviews with people actively involved in negotiating the fate of forest ecosystems in southwest Virginia: landowners, forest advisors, scientists, state and federal foresters, loggers, and leaders in non-governmental environmental organizations. We argue that differing assumptions about nature constrain people’s vision of what environmental conditions can and should exist, thereby constraining the future that can be negotiated. We recommend promoting ecological literacy and a biocultural approach to ecological science.

Key words

biocultural, communication, conceptual models, conflict, ecological buzzwords, ecology, environmental quality, forest, human–nature dichotomy, nature, public participation, public perceptions, public perceptions, social construction

Copyright © 2002 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