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Spatial and temporal scale framing of a decision on the future of the Mactaquac 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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Many large dams are coming to the end of their lifespans and decisions must be made about whether to rebuild/refurbish or remove them, which will have different implications across temporal and spatial scales. Such decisions are often controversial, but little is known about what drives differences in stakeholders’ perspectives of them. Cognitive scale frames describe how people use scales in interpreting such an issue, including which of its elements they prioritize and which they minimize. Using interviews with 30 stakeholders and analysis of documents, we explored how stakeholders used spatial and temporal scales in their frames of a decision about whether to rebuild/refurbish or remove the Mactaquac Dam in New Brunswick, Canada. We found that stakeholders used multiple levels on spatial, hydrological, administrative, and temporal scales in their frames. Both those who wanted to retain the dam and those who wanted to remove it upscaled problems from local level to higher spatial levels, making problems seem widely shared and therefore legitimate. However, there were mismatches in the scales used: the retainers upscaled to the province on the administrative scale while the removers upscaled to the entire river on the hydrological scale. The results revealed the particular importance of temporal scale frames, particularly of the past, which have been little studied. Both groups framed problems as continuing into the future, but diverged strongly in how they framed various periods of the past as being relevant to understanding problems and their solutions in the present. Decision makers should be aware of differing scale frames when designing decision-making processes and conflict resolution efforts.

Key words

dams; scale framing; spatial scale; temporal scale

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