Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2018

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Forest Resources

Advisor

Jessica Leahy

Second Committee Member

Aaron Strong

Third Committee Member

Erin Lane

Abstract

Interest in using prescribed burning as a forest management tool to promote forest health and regeneration is growing in Maine. The goal for this research was to better understand the way that the public perceives prescribed burning practices in wildland-urban interfaces, with an emphasis placed on how immersive imagery, closely related to virtual reality (VR), compares to traditional communication methods. We specifically focus on the social acceptability of prescribed burning and analyze how the level of immersive imagery is related to that acceptability (Ahn, 2015; Bricken, 1990; Fogg, Cuellar, and Danielson, 2009; Smith 2015; Wiederhold, Davis, and Wiederhold, 1998). The information derived from this research can be a useful tool in public involvement and communication efforts for forest managers, scientists, and policy makers.

Additionally, this research identified potential solutions for bridging public and manager communication boundaries. Immersive imagery is a relatively new technology and its uses within forest management have only recently begun to be explored. This research built upon the concept of boundary spanning objects, where an object – in this case immersive imagery – can create an effective exchange of ideas and information between stakeholder groups. Within the boundary literature, three factors are frequently identified as being particularly influential on the perceptions of information communicated through a boundary object: saliency, legitimacy, and credibility (Cash et al., 2002). Combining this with the growing body of literature on immersive imagery for communication and decision-making purposes, this research attempted to identify public perceptions of immersive imagery. This research evaluated saliency, legitimacy, and credibility of immersive imagery and traditional communication methods, which contributes toward understanding immersive imagery’s potential as a boundary-spanning object.

The methodological design for this research was to implement a 2x2 framework in which participants were shown visual imagery that varied based on level of immersion as well as level of smoke within the imagery. Each participant was given a pre and post-questionnaire tailored to whichever of the four groups they have randomly been assigned. The pre-questionnaire included questions that attempted to measure the participants environmental values, prior knowledge and experience, acceptability of prescribed burns, their views on smoke from prescribed burns, their perceived confidence and trust in managers, and questions relating to boundary objects. After viewing the randomly assigned imagery, participants took a post-questionnaire which composed of questions relating to sociodemographic variables, and the other same identical parameters.

We found that immersive imagery or VR has substantial potential in several arenas, but most notably as an effective boundary spanning object that seemed to increase participant’s perceptions of credibility and saliency towards VR and wildland fire management. Additionally, the technology also showed a high amount of potential in reducing fear and anxiety towards prescribed burning.

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