Community Perspectives on Spruce Beetle Impacts on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

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Forest Ecology and Management

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A recent outbreak of spruce beetles (Dendroctonus rufipennis) in forests on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska was met with substantial variation in response among people and communities situated within this changing landscape. Interviews and mail surveys administered to residents in six Kenai Peninsula communities revealed differences in perception of biophysical, social, and economic impacts that resulted from changing forest conditions related to the spruce beetle outbreak. Together, the qualitative and quantitative data provided evidence of collective experience and community risk perception across Kenai Peninsula communities. Fire, falling trees, declining quality of watersheds and wildlife habitat, economic fluctuations, landscape change, and emotional loss were some of the issues faced. In some communities, increased timber harvesting brought short-term, positive economic change in the wake of the spruce beetle outbreak. In other communities, the loss of a living spruce (Picea spp.) forest profoundly affected quality of life, and led to community conflict, increased risk perception of future impacts, and economic challenges. Biophysical changes were keenly felt by many residents. Communities at different stages in the spruce beetle outbreak revealed temporal and spatial variations in perceived impacts. The diverse array of perceived impacts and risks from the spruce beetle outbreak in Kenai Peninsula communities presents both opportunities and obstacles for forest management in the context of changing forest conditions.

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