The area dominated by sagebrush in the western United States has diminished by an estimated 50 percent over the past century, largely due to environmental stressors related to human management actions. Accordingly scientists and land managers seek options for restoring native sagebrush-perennial grass ecosystems. These options necessarily must entail human management action as well; therefore it is important to understand how the people who influence and implement restoration actions perceive the need for restoration as well as the alternatives available to conserve and restore sagebrush-dominated systems. This presentation synthesizes results of three studies that measured ecological knowledge and management preferences: interviews of land managers and interest group leaders that explored respondents’ views of the ecological and management context of sagebrush ecosystems in the Great Basin, general public surveys in the Great Basin that focused on beliefs and management preferences about sagebrush ecosystem management in the wake of catastrophic wildfire, and a general public survey in the northern Rocky Mountains that emphasized woodland expansion processes and their effects on rangelands.
When viewed in combination, these studies suggest that interest group leaders as well as the public generally are less confident in the capacity of land managers to implement restoration practices than in our scientific knowledge about restoration. Specific concerns about management capacity are influenced by contextual factors such as the values people obtain from rangelands as well as environmental policy preferences. Citizen support for management depends less on their beliefs about ecosystem health or the causes and consequences of landscape change than on beliefs about the purposes of managed change, the tools used to achieve it, and the scientists and managers whose ideas direct the change process. Efforts to increase the ecological knowledge of affected stakeholders, and thereby increase public support for restoration, must also consider contextual factors and seek ways to address non-scientific concerns about ecosystem restoration.