Title page for ETD etd-04072009-112252

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Predmore, Stephen Andrew
Author's Email Address sapredmo@vt.edu
URN etd-04072009-112252
Title Ecosystem Management in the USDA Forest Service: A Discourse Analysis
Degree PhD
Department Forestry
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Copenheaver, Carolyn A. Committee Co-Chair
Mortimer, Michael J. Committee Co-Chair
Hull, Robert Bruce IV Committee Member
Stern, Marc J. Committee Member
  • National Environmental Policy Act
  • environmental policy
  • environmental planning
  • environmental discourse
  • administration
  • federal public lands
Date of Defense 2009-03-30
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation examines the environmental discourse of the USDA Forest Service, focusing on the language of ecosystem management (EM). A two pronged approach was employed: eleven interviews were conducted with agency executives (chapter two); thirty-three interviews were conducted with agency staff specialists and decision-makers, working at the agency’s operational levels (chapter three and four). Differences between how agency executives view EM and how agency operators view EM were identified. Chapter two shows that agency executives generally believed that the process of EM is ingrained in the agency. Chapter three explores this assertion at the forest and district levels, and reveals conflicting stories concerning the current practice of EM. Agency operators explained EM as a process driven by ecological science, but also revealed an alternate planning process. The alternate planning process is driven by the agency’s budget and strict employee roles. Through qualitative analysis of interviews with agency operators, a model of how agency operators construct agency planning was created. It illustrates the potential mismatch between planning focused on ecological science and an agency focused on budgets, cost-benefit calculations, and strict employee roles. The model also shows that agency operators described active and passive publics in their constructions of agency planning. Chapter four focuses on these constructs of the public, and shows how they are partly created by agency interpretations of the public involvement processes required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In some cases, the agency applies a standard for public participation (substantive sieve) that requires publics to couch their concerns in scientific or legal terms. Publics that are able to navigate the substantive sieve are typically viewed as active publics, while those that cannot meet this standard are viewed as passive publics. A feedback mechanism was identified between constructs of the public and agency process; constructs of the public shape agency process and agency process shapes agency constructions of the public. The dissertation concludes by showing that agency focus on budgetary targets and the use of the substantive sieve can be understood as attempts to instill accountability into a decentralized agency with an ambiguous mission.
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