Connecting local environmental knowledge and land use practices: A human ecosystem approach to urbanization in West Georgia

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Courtesy of Springer

Issues of urban sprawl and migration of exurban residents into the surrounding countryside of metropolitan areas have generated considerable debate across the US. These debates often revolve around the ecological footprint of urban areas and the erosion of quality of life indicators associated with rapid expansion of urban and residential areas. Although there has been much research done on the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of urbanization, little attention has been given to cultural impacts. This paper focuses specifically on the role of local environmental knowledge as an important resource in human ecosystems, and looks at the implications of environmental knowledge loss associated with urbanization and its related demographic changes. We compared environmental knowledge among rural, urban, and developing watersheds in western Georgia, and also look at relationships between local environmental knowledge and variables such as gender, education, income, and participation in outdoor recreational activities. We then explored how variations in environmental knowledge affected land use practices at the household level. The mean knowledge scores of residents in all three classifications of rural watersheds were higher than those living in developing and urban watersheds. We found residents of managed pine watersheds possessed the highest mean scores (p = 0.006), while urban watershed residents were the lowest. We also found that local environmental knowledge was influenced by active participation in outdoor recreation, with active bird-watchers having the highest environmental knowledge scores. However, we found less influence of factors such as education and income on environmental knowledge. We also found a clear connection between local environmental knowledge and land management practices. Timber owners scored higher than non-timber owners (p = 0.099), and landowners who constructed streamside management zones (SMZs) scored higher than those who did not (p = 0.034).

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