Bergtold, J. S., M. M. Caldas, S. R. Ramsey, M. R. Sanderson, G. Granco, and M. E. Mather. 2022. The gap between experts, farmers and non-farmers on perceived environmental vulnerability and the influence of values and beliefs. Journal of Environmental Management 316 (2022) 115186
Abstract. Science has played a mixed role in guiding conservation and sustainability-oriented decision-making by individuals, policymakers, institutions, and governments. Not all science-based conservation and sustainability initiatives that address issues facing humanity and ecosystems and global problems have gained public support. Conservation decisions and policy prescriptions are and may be based on perceptions about and experiences with the environment, local land use, and ecosystems that may not align with or be grounded in science or evidence from experts in the field. Social values, perceptions, and beliefs associated with nature play a critical role in how individuals view biodiversity conservation, sustainability, and natural resource management. This study first examines the gap between the public and scientists/experts about the state of water and land resources, wildlife and associated habitats, and aquatic biodiversity in the Smoky Hill River Watershed in western Kansas. Second, the study examines the role that values and beliefs play in shaping environmental perceptions for farmers and non-farmers. Analysis confirms that a gap between experts and farmers/non-farmers does exist, especially with respect to the state of the Ogallala Aquifer, playas on the High Plains, native fish populations and non-hunted wildlife species. Ordered-logistic regression analyses, meanwhile, indicate that farmer/non-farmer perceptions about the state of the local environment are influenced by traditional and self-interested values as well as environmental values, while less influence is found for beliefs such as religiosity and political ideology. Despite broad takeaways, results exhibited heterogeneity across the farmer and non-farmer subpopulations. If environmental professionals can’t align ecological data, stakeholders values/perceptions, and policies, then the existing body of technical research and management on sustainability in natural and social sciences may be of little value.