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Wood-based bioenergy in western Montana: the importance of understanding path dependence and local context for resilience

Tyler A. Beeton, Department of Anthropology & North Central Climate Science Center, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University
Kathleen A. Galvin, Department of Anthropology & Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University


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The use of biomass for wood-based bioenergy (WBB) has been argued as a mechanism to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce vulnerability to disturbance events such as fires, and to enhance rural socioeconomic development. Yet, WBB development is characterized by a multitude of feedstock sources, bioenergy pathways, scales, and end uses, the feasibility of which is contingent upon place-based and context-specific social and environmental factors. We present an exploratory case study that draws on key informant interviews among a cohort of diverse stakeholders in rural western Montana forest communities, which was informed by a social-ecological systems framework and resilience thinking from a social science lens. The purpose of this paper is the following: (a) to document the ways in which key informants define the opportunities and constraints associated with WBB in local contexts; and (b) to understand how, and under what contexts, WBB can contribute to forest and community resilience under change. Interviews were analyzed using a modified grounded theory approach, and supplemented by document analysis. Results illustrate the ways in which historical contingencies (i.e., path dependence), individual and group values, and social context can affect the capacity to implement WBB projects. Results also help identify multiple perspectives and trade-offs, which can provide a step toward identifying the most desirable and plausible options for WBB development. As such, these lessons can be used as a starting point to help determine WBB development pathways that contribute to the social and ecological resilience of local places and people under change.

Key words

bioenergy; path dependence; renewable energy; resilience; Rocky Mountains; social-ecological systems

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