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Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Wang, Grace A.
Neff, Mark W.
Melious, Jean O.
Smith, Bradley Fraser
Natural resource management efforts have historically concentrated on ecological goals to identify and prioritize conservation actions. However, successful implementation of conservation actions on private land requires conservation opportunity, or the willingness of landholders to participate in and accept conservation actions. Conservation opportunity on private land depends on a range of structural and social factors. Recent research emphasizes the importance of social factors and suggests incorporating social factors in conservation actions is necessary for the long-term sustainability and equitability of environmental change. The social factor of trust has been shown to strongly influence landholder’s decision-making. For this research, trust is defined as a belief that someone or something is good, reliable, honest, and effective. However, trust is complex and sometimes difficult to predict. In addition, trust can be regionally specific and little research exists on trust in the Pacific Northwest.
This study seeks to increase understanding of trust and the importance of trust in conservation opportunity on private land in the Pacific Northwest. In this study, trust is comprised of six constructs: Personal Relationship, Social Structure, Reciprocity, Shared Worldview, Social Commitment, and Participation in Decision-Making. The researcher utilized self-administered surveys to measure landholders’ level of trust in conservation organizations and answer three research questions: Are the constructs associated with trust as expected? Which constructs of trust are most important in a landholder’s decision to participate in voluntary conservation programs? and What actions could these organizations take to improve trust?
Surveys were distributed to participants and non-participants of four voluntary conservation programs in the Nooksack Watershed in Whatcom County, Washington. The research results suggest six primary findings. First, survey respondents report trust as equally or more important than other factors in determining conservation opportunity. Second, not all individuals have a uniform definition of trust, yet trust is strongly associated with the degree to which the landholder perceives an individual, institution, or program respects and understands their goals. Third, results distinguish two constructs being reported as most important in determining conservation opportunity within the study group: Social Commitment and Participation in Decision-Making. The construct items reported as least important are affiliation with other groups/individuals and obligation. Fourth, while the landholder’s relationship with the organization’s representative is important, they do not identify it as the most influential construct item. Fifth, although the literature shows the Shared Worldview construct can predict policy positions, the results of a Shared Worldview “short-form” survey indicate worldview may not be a predictor for who participates and what program they will participate in. Finally, both participants and non-participants believe the conservation organizations have the opportunity to earn or increase trust. Landholders’ suggested actions to increase trust varied but included providing long-term on-the-ground work, improved communication, additional opportunities for landholder input, changes to the organization’s governance, and effort to change state policy. While results cannot be extended to the general population, the findings have the potential to help conservation organizations within the Pacific Northwest build trust with landholders and increase landholder enrollment in conservation programs. In addition, the findings highlight areas for future research.
Western Washington University
Nooksack River Watershed (Wash.)
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Burns, Analiese C. E., "Trust and Conservation Opportunity: the importance of trust in landholders' decisions to participate in conservation programs" (2017). WWU Masters Thesis Collection. 573.