SYMP 23-3 - Understanding the human dimensions of river restoration: Evidence from the Clark Fork River, Montana

Friday, August 11, 2017: 9:00 AM
D135, Oregon Convention Center
Elizabeth Metcalf, Jakki Mohr, Alexander Metcalf and Fred Lauer, University of Montana

There is increasing recognition that the social goals of ecological restoration are important; yet social goals are rarely incorporated into ecological plans (Petts, 2007). This lack of attention to the social dimensions of restoration is a critical gap, given that social factors may ultimately prove to be key drivers of restoration success. This paper will examine the key social drivers of restoration and the varying perspectives of stakeholders that have an impact of restoration goals and success.

The Clark Fork River (CFR) in Montana was heavily polluted due to extensive mining since the 1800’s and is now considered the largest Superfund site in the USA. The “clean-up” effort consists of over 27 entities including government, NGO’s, and citizen action groups working together. Using a mixed method approach, we examined the goals, public input processes, and definitions of success of the CFR restoration project. In the summer of 2013 we conducted 44 qualitative interviews that were completed, taped and professionally transcribed, coded using Nvivo. In 2016, we utilized these findings to develop a quantitative assessment, focusing on a community within the superfund site. A survey of residents was conducted using an in-person intercept method (n=123). Data were analyzed using SPSS.


The qualitative interviews found that relationships among agencies, and relationships between agencies and citizens/landowners, were a focus of understanding restoration success. Factors associated with time, such as delays between decisions about restoration and action, eroded trust for some respondents. Communication also impacted restoration and was seen as an antecedent to success. Some identified the role of NGO’s and citizen action groups as being the “voice” of citizens and landowners and felt they were instrumental in making restoration successful.

Results from the quantitative assessment suggest restoration success is a product of trust, value structures, and public involvement. Residents indicated that lack of communication and not being part of the decision making process influenced levels of trust in the project. Findings also lend support for using satisfaction measures that are directly tied to restoration goals as a proxy for restoration success. By understanding the social dimensions of restoration, both ecological and social goals can be met and have a broader impact on the success of restoration in future projects.