Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Keith Grant-Davie


Keith Grant-Davie


John McLaughlin


Rebecca Walton


Mark Brunson


David Hailey


Laura Vernon conducts a study to discover how, against the odds, the Bridgerland Audubon Society (BAS), located in Cache Valley, Utah, influenced a change in public policy regarding the Amalga Barrens reservoir proposal. In 1991, the state of Utah proposed developing the Bear River in northern Utah and constructing an off-stream storage facility (a reservoir) on the wetlands known as the Barrens near the town of Amalga. The Barrens served as a bird habitat for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. In the late 1990s, BAS led a grassroots effort to remove the Barrens as a proposed site from the Bear River Development Act. The law was amended in 2002.

The study is a rhetorical analysis grounded in the following four theorists/theories:

  • Aristotle's theory that appeals to ethos (credibility and authority), pathos (emotions, values, beliefs, and attitudes), and logos (facts, logic, rational thinking, and sound reasoning) are persuasive
  • L. Bitzer's theory of rhetorical situations, which posits that situations can create an exigency to which rhetorical discourse can respond
  • S. Senecah's Trinity of Voice theory, which posits that good environmental decisions can be made when participatory processes promote access (opportunities for voices to be heard), standing (respect for all perspectives), and influence (consideration of all stakeholders' ideas)
  • S. Daniels and G. Walker's collaborative learning approach that operates on the premise that social learning is fundamental to good public policy decisions

Vernon uses primary research methods to answer her overarching research question: Against the odds, how did BAS influence a change in public policy regarding the Amalga Barrens wetlands dam proposal when similar groups dealing with similar issues have failed or met with mixed results? Her rhetorical analysis includes three types of materials: an archive of BAS documents, an archive of newspaper articles, and transcriptions from interviews she conducted with key players in the controversy.

Vernon meets her research objective by discovering and discussing the five communication strategies that appear to be significant factors in helping BAS remove the Barrens wetlands from consideration by the legislature as a reservoir site for Bear River water. The five communication strategies are as follows: (1) be civil; (2) target specific individuals with influence in the legislature; (3) focus on cost with decision-makers; (4) create a portfolio of arguments grounded in data; and (5) educate the locals and influential individuals. These strategies may be helpful to environmental groups managing issues in their own communities.