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Title: A social-ecological impact assessment for public land management: application of a conceptual and methodological framework

item BENTLEY, BRYMER - University Of Idaho
item HOLBROOK, JOSEPH - University Of Idaho
item NIEMEYER, RYAN - University Of Idaho
item SUAZO, ALEXIS - University Of Idaho
item WULFHORST, J.D. - University Of Idaho
item VIERLING, KERRI - University Of Idaho
item Newingham, Beth
item LINK, TIMOTHY - University Of Idaho
item RACHLOW, JANET - University Of Idaho

Submitted to: Ecology and Society
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/15/2015
Publication Date: 8/16/2016
Citation: Bentley, B.L., Holbrook, J.D., Niemeyer, R.J., Suazo, A.A., Wulfhorst, J., Vierling, K.T., Newingham, B.A., Link, T.E., Rachlow, J.L. 2016. A social-ecological impact assessment for public land management: application of a conceptual and methodological framework. Ecology and Society. 21(3):9. doi: 10.5751/ES-08569-210309.

Interpretive Summary: Federal agencies are required to do a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) assessment before commencing most public land management actions. The NEPA assessment determines the potential impacts of the management action, so the agency can develop mitigation strategies and report their findings in an environmental impact statement (EIS). Although the NEPA process should include both ecological and social impacts, most EIS statements focus only on the ecological components. We developed a social-ecological impact assessment (SEIA) framework and that addresses the requirements of NEPA and incorporates social impacts. We then applied this SEIA framework to a high-profile conservation context involving the western U.S., greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; hereafter sage-grouse). Currently, the Bureau of Land Management uses cut and scatter, mastication, and jackpot burning as removal treatments for juniper trees encroaching sage-grouse habitat. Our study examined the potential ecological and social impacts of such treatments.

Technical Abstract: According to the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), federal action to manipulate habitat for species conservation requires an environmental impact statement (EIS), which should integrate natural and social sciences in planning and decision-making. Nonetheless, most impact assessments focus disproportionately on ecological impacts rather than an integration of ecological and socio-economic components. We developed a participatory social-ecological impact assessment (SEIA) that addresses the requirements of NEPA and integrates social and ecological concepts for impact assessments. We cooperated with the Bureau of Land Management in Idaho (USA) on a project designed to restore habitat for the Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), which is a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act. We employed questionnaires, workshop dialogue, and participatory mapping exercises with stakeholders to identify potential environmental changes and subsequent impacts expected to result from the removal of western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis). Via questionnaires and dialogue, stakeholders identified 46 environmental changes and associated positive or negative impacts to people and communities in Owyhee County. Results of the participatory mapping exercises showed that the spatial distribution of social, economic, and ecological values throughout Owyhee County are highly associated with the two main watersheds, wilderness areas, and the historic town of Silver City, Idaho. Our SEIA framework also highlighted that perceptions of spatial and temporal scale varied among participants, emphasizing that specificity in scales is needed when discussing proposed projects. Overall, our SEIA framework generated substantial information concerning spatial and temporal impacts associated with habitat treatments for greater sage-grouse. Our SEIA is transferable to other conservation contexts, and by applying our framework land managers will better satisfy the requirements of NEPA as well as develop a more effective management plan to achieve their conservation goals.