Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Oregon
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Jones, M. S., Teel, T. L., Solomon, J., & Weiss, J. (2021). Evolving systems of pro-environmental behavior among wildscape gardeners. Landscape and Urban Planning, 207, 104018.


Cities are important sites for encouraging more widespread adoption of pro-environmental behaviors (PEB) that benefit humans and wildlife alike. Wildscaping, a type of stewardship PEB in which people create wildlife-friendly gardens, has been promoted by conservation organizations, yet fundamental questions remain about what wildscaping entails and what factors contribute to sustained involvement. We used a social-ecological systems (SES) framework to examine behavior change among urban residents in Colorado who had received wildscape gardening certification and training. We employed semi-structured interviews (n = 11), quantitative surveys (n = 63), participant observation, and document analysis, and analyzed data using grounded theoretical techniques. We found that program participants engaged in 14 gardening behaviors targeting habitat creation on their properties, and 11 advocacy behaviors targeting social change. These behaviors were driven by 10 interconnected motivations, including mutual refuge with wildlife, changing norms, aesthetic beauty, and sense of place. Engagement in wildscaping was sustained over time by multi-scalar contextual factors, including social interactions and formal program participation. These findings offer the first SES understanding of how urban residents begin and expand their engagement in wildscape gardening and advocacy. Future research should focus on how understanding of SES characteristics can enable more effective behavior change programs in urban landscapes. Possible ways that conservation outreach could consider SES include encouraging evolving feedback loops between participants’ motivations and behaviors, emphasizing reciprocal benefits to individuals and their social-ecological context, and promoting coordinated involvement by different types of actors at multiple scales of the system.