Date of Award

8-2011

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Ecology and Environmental Sciences

Advisor

Aram J.K. Calhoun

Second Committee Member

Robert J. Lilieholm

Third Committee Member

James Acheson

Abstract

Vernal pools are small, seasonal wetlands that provide critical breeding habitat for a unique assemblage of amphibians and invertebrates and important habitat for rare and endangered species. The overarching goal of my research was to better understand the challenges and opportunities for conserving vernal pools on private land using regulatory and voluntary approaches. In pursuing this goal, I examined the process and outcomes of collaborative planning at the state and local level using a mixed-methods approach of observations, interviews, focus groups, and a mail survey. I interviewed members and stakeholders of the state-driven Vernal Pool Working Group (VPWG) to link the process and outputs of multi-stakeholder collaboration with social and environmental outcomes. Using interviews, focus groups, and a mail survey, I explored private landowner response to vernal pools, vernal pool regulations, and the Vernal Pool Mapping and Assessment Program (VPMAP), a community-based citizen science education and outreach program. I also used interviews, focus groups, and observations to investigate how VPMAP structured interactions between experts and stakeholders in community-based conservation planning. Intangible outcomes such as building relationships, establishing trust, and sharing information among participants were the most beneficial aspects of VPWG deliberations. Consensus among stakeholders on new state vernal pool regulations and "spin-off' partnerships such as VPMAP emerged from the social, political, and intellectual capital developed during the 10-year deliberative process. Data from participant observation, interviews, and focus groups revealed a diversity of frames that landowners used to describe vernal pools, vernal pool regulations, and VPMAP. Quantitative analysis of the mail questionnaire identifed three distinct clusters of landowners based on similar views of property rights, conservation, development, and economic factors. While VPMAP mobilized support for community-based management, enhanced awareness and understanding of vernal pools at the local level, and improved participatory local planning through a process of collaborative learning, communication was a significant barrier for the effective functioning of VPMAP as a participatory strategy to engage a wider network of stakeholders in proactive conservation planning. I conclude that initiating and supporting voluntary community-based processes within top-down regulatory structures is a challenging task requiring a continuous exchange of social and ecological information.

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