Sense of Place, Underserved Communities, and Adaptive Capacity in the Intermountain West

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Research Theme
Primary Investigators

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Planners, public land managers, and community decision-makers anecdotally understand and experience the importance of sense of place but may not understand how it can be leveraged to build adaptive capacity to help communities respond to and navigate change (Knapp and Trainor 2013). In this project we will collect and compare data across the Intermountain West to better understand how sense of place might be leveraged to assist in adaptation efforts.

This project will look at how compound hazards, especially the impacts of wildfire and aridification of recreational spaces, influence sense of place, and how shifts in sense of place impact adaptive capacity in locations experiencing change. To compare impacted regions across the Intermountain West, we will choose communities that have a high dependence on natural resources and public lands, and that have experienced compound hazards in the recent past. Sense of place provides an additional understanding of alternative ways of knowing and understanding compound impacts of climate change and natural hazards. By assessing its evolution and relationship with recent change, we facilitate a broader and more equitable understanding of the multi-faceted needs of local communities.

This project will place particular emphasis on how communities that are currently underserved by RISA in our region, such as Latinx and Indigenous communities, view their own adaptive capacity and their needs for further building climate resilience. There are large populations of Latinx and Indigenous communities in the southwest, as well as small rural communities that have long been underserved by climate assessment and adaptation efforts. we believe that the intersecting impacts of societal stressors and complex climate hazards in Latinx, Indigenous, and small rural communities like this represent a critical need that RISAs like WWA should help to fill.

In Phase I (2021-2023), we will develop case studies that investigate the impact of wildfire and drought on sense of place and community adaptive capacity. The frequency and intensity of large wildfires is likely to increase in the coming decades, necessitating an improved understanding of context-specific adaptive capacity. In year 1, specific case study communities will be chosen in Colorado to represent the range and variation of exposure to and impacts of recent fires. Interviews will explore how experiencing compound hazards impacted participants, whether these experiences influenced their sense of place and identity, and whether they have taken any action (on an individual, community, and organizational level) to respond to the hazards and plan for the future. To ensure a robust assessment of vulnerability, sense of place, and adaptive capacity, we will interview participants from the range of socio-economic, cultural, and demographic variation within each community. One case study will also focus on the impacts of changing Lake Powell water levels in Utah on recreational opportunities, tourism in nearby communities, and land management. 

In Phase II (2023-2026), if there is community support and interest, we plan to host a workshop to further explore how changes to sense of place impact adaptive capacity in the case study communities. The content and structure of workshops will be codesigned with community partners to address emergent needs related to sense of place. Workshop topics may include scenario planning to consider how sense of place might inform management at different scales moving forward, considering how dissimilar definitions of place might be navigated, or partnering mental health experts with service providers. In addition, we plan to expand this work to communities in other states to support learning and network development across the region.

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