Date of Award:

Spring 2017

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology

Department name when degree awarded

Sociology

Advisor/Chair:

Richard Krannich

Abstract

The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is home to one of the highest concentrations of brown bears in Alaska. As the public demand for bear viewing opportunities continues to increase, managers are faced with the challenge of accommodating this new kind of visitor use on a refuge that was traditionally managed for the sustainable hunting of bears. To inform the public use management planning process, the Kodiak Refuge allocated funding to support social science research that objectively assessed the current nature of bear viewing opportunities and the factors that influence the quality of those opportunities. Ecologist Aldo Leopold claimed that the outstanding advance of modern ecology would be the “inevitable fusion” of the social and natural sciences. Therefore, a conjoint constitution framework inspired by Freudenburg, Frickel, and Gramling (1995) enabled this study to examine the active interplay of social and environmental factors in a bear viewing experience.

Two seasons of research were conducted in partnership with Utah State University. The first season employed qualitative research methods to conduct detailed interviews with a wide variety of bear viewing stakeholders in Kodiak. This process informed the creation of a survey measurement tool that was administered to bear viewers the following summer. Survey results suggest that seeing a larger number of bears and seeing big bears are trip characteristics associated with higher satisfaction among visitors, while closer proximity to bears is associated with learning more about bear behavior.

The environmental sociology principle of “conjoint constitution” guided both phases of research by helping to examine how social and physical factors interact with one another to create trip outcomes. Just as there are ongoing biological inventory and monitoring processes that inform refuge management, there should be inventory and monitoring of human activity and the fluent sociological factors influencing the nature of that activity. As the Kodiak Refuge continues its public use planning process, the ongoing integration of both biological and social science data will be critical.

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