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MS Thesis Defense - Joe Hinnant

Exploring Social Dimensions of Ecological Restoration in the Removal of Two Dams on the Elwha River

11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Hardin Hall Room: 207 South
3310 Holdrege St
Lincoln NE 68583
Additional Info: HARH
Mark Burbach,
The United States is approaching a critical juncture regarding aging dam infrastructure. Recently, a common path forward has been to decommission and remove dams, returning rivers to a free-flowing state.

The primary focus of most literature on ecological restoration, especially dam removal, has been the ecological impact of the restoration. Attention from practitioners and researchers is shifting toward the importance of participation and the social dimensions of ecological restoration. The social situation surrounding a dam removal can lead to expedited success, delayed progress, or an abandoned removal effort. This study seeks to connect selected social dimensions of dam removal with the broader literature of ecological restoration by exploring the question, “how are social dimensions of ecological restoration expressed within public participation in a dam removal process?”

A qualitative research design using a directed content analysis was used to study selected social dimensions of dam removal contained in public comment letters sent to the federal agency in charge of removing two dams on the Elwha River of Washington. A codebook was developed to explore the social dimensions of restoration attitude, environmental attitude, place attachment, connectedness to nature, sense of community, and economics.
The findings of this study revealed those with positive restoration attitude more frequently referenced the social dimensions of environmental attitude, place attachment, connectedness to nature, and sense of community. While participants with negative restoration attitude centered more of their testimonies around the economic situation surrounding dam removals. Additionally, participants with a positive restoration attitude framed their comments and references to other social dimensions around the potential ecological, economic, and social gains following dam removal, while participants with a negative restoration attitude framed their comments around the possible ecological, economic, and social losses that would ensue following dam removal.

Findings from this study emphasize the importance of public participation in the dam removal process as well as the continued exploration of the social dimensions of dam removal. As this river restoration method becomes more commonplace, environmental managers will need to be able to effectively engage with the public and understand not only the ecological dimensions, but also the social dimensions of dam removal.

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This event originated in School of Natural Resources.