Environmental discourse through a cultural lens: A case study of Guamanians' relationships with nature and wildlife

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Nelson, Kimberly
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Dara M. Wald
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Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication

Guam’s natural landscape has noticeably changed over the past century due to increased human activity and introductions of nonnative species. U.S. government agencies and the military have taken steps to mitigate the impacts of nonnative species such as the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) and coconut rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes rhinoceros), both of which have impacted humans directly and indirectly. Previous efforts to control these species on Guam have focused on engaging the community in mitigation efforts; however, little is currently known about the drivers of public support for management efforts on Guam. Moreover, understanding what the public thinks about environmental decisions can produce better policy outcomes with greater public support. Yet minimal research to date has explored this topic or the role of cultural values in Guamanians attitudes toward wildlife, natural areas and the management of nonnative species. This study uses a qualitative approach to understand how members of the public, as well as scientists and natural resource managers, perceive Guam’s nature and wildlife. Results provide evidence for dramatically different perspectives between public and expert participants, rooted in difference cultural orientations. Public participants described a significant and mutualistic link between culture and the environment. For participants belonging to more traditional communities, they expressed concerns that environmental changes are affecting their livelihood. Experts expressed a dualistic orientation, characterized by a separation between humans and nature. Finally, descriptions of nonnative species were examined. Public participants used disease-like, militaristic, and hostile terms to describe nonnative species, which echoes Guam’s history with colonization, while experts chose to focus on the direct effects nonnative species have on wildlife. This study is the first to explore the role of values in public debate over the management of nonnative species on Guam. Furthermore, it adds to the previous literature by highlighting the importance of cultural values in public attitudes about nature and wildlife.

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Sat Dec 01 00:00:00 UTC 2018