In the past four decades, the migration of urban and suburban dwellers into rural areas of the United States has dramatically transformed the social, economic, and ecological conditions in rural areas. This migration places development pressure on forested,
agricultural, and open space areas and leads to the subdivision of large tracts of land into smaller parcels, which can complicate the governance and management of human- environmental problems.
The prevention and control of nonpoint source (NPS) pollution
from rural private lands is a particularly pressing human-environmental challenge that may be exacerbated by the growing number and diversity of rural landowners. Reducing NPS pollution is increasingly dependent on understanding how to promote the adoption of pollution control measures (known as best management practices [BMPs]) by a growing and diverse group of private landowners.
In this dissertation, I address this governance challenge through an investigation of how regulations, non-regulatory programs, and other factors promote and impede the adoption of BMPs by different groups of landowners. I focus on the prevention and control of sediment (a common NPS pollutant) from private timber, ranch, residential, and
marijuana producing lands in the rural North Coastal Basin of California. This research utilizes an institutional analysis approach and employs a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods applied at the watershed and regional scale.
Though the sediment pollution problem is associated with management practices on all land uses, this research reveals that sediment pollution is unevenly governed. I find that that the stringency and enforcement of regulations, influence of non-regulatory programs, and landowners' knowledge and adoption of BMPs vary by land use. Landowners engaging in traditional rural land uses such as timber production and ranching are generally more knowledgeable about BMPs than other landowners. Their use of BMPs is associated with strictly enforced regulations and/or participation in non-regulatory programs. Residential landowners and those using their land for marijuana cultivation receive less attention from resource agencies and non-governmental organizations and are less likely to be familiar with BMPs. Consequently, as residential uses and marijuana cultivation become more common across the region, these parts of the landscape become ungoverned leaving the area vulnerable to increases in NPS pollution.
The challenges of governing and managing sediment pollution in the transitioning rural region of the North Coastal Basin mirror the challenges associated with the governance of many complex and evolving human-environmental problems. In this dissertation, I
focus on the social and institutional aspects of governance and management of these problems. In doing so, I draw attention to the ways that social complexity can complicate the governance of biophysically complex problems, highlight the influence of formal and
informal social interactions on landowners' management decisions, and add insight into the design of regulatory and non-regulatory programs that recognize and capitalize on the social factors that affect management decisions on private lands.