For the birds: Researching theory and practice in environmental conservation policy processes

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Mistur, Evan Matthew
Matisoff, Daniel C.
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This dissertation explores how policy processes and decision-making structures influence environmental management in public agencies. It contributes to our understanding of how traditional bureaucratic systems of organization overlap and integrate with collaborative management structures in both theory and practice. First, it investigates the potential for Adaptive Management to take place within a bureaucratic system by examining a public agency’s response to a pair of unforeseen environmental shocks as two endangered species of bat were discovered. Using a mixed-methods analysis, it qualitatively examines the agency’s adaptive processes and extends the Adaptive Management model to describe mediating actors in the management process, then quantitatively tests the impact of this process using OLS regression, demonstrating that it significantly improves project outcomes at the agency. Next, it examines how stakeholder engagement impacts management capacity and organizational decision-making at a public agency focused on sea turtle conservation. It examines the extent to which engaging local stakeholders increases the agency’s ability to perform, the level of alignment between volunteer and professional managers’ motivations, and the impact their motivations have on the decision-making process using a qualitative comparative case-study analysis. This study demonstrates that stakeholder engagement provides integral support to agency initiatives at the functional level and is critical to managerial ability, but that it introduces goal misalignment within the agency and can bias managers’ decision-making through target fixation. Finally, this dissertation investigates policy diffusion through the spread of state birdwatching trail programs across the US. This study challenges incumbent policy diffusion theory explaining diffusion through regional proximity and introduces a time-variant, micro-level mechanism to describe the spread of policy adoption. It tests this mechanism using fixed effects regression and demonstrates that special-interest group movement can more accurately model policy diffusion at a micro level. This work contributes to our theoretical understanding of environmental policy and can be used by researchers investigating the process of administration of environmental services. Furthermore, it provides useful evidence that can inform practitioners tasked with designing or running environmental management programs in the field.
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