Building Trust in Natural Resource Management Within Local Communities: A Case Study of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
Communities neighboring federally protected natural areas regularly weigh the costs and benefits of the administering agency’s programs and policies. While most agencies integrate public opinion into decision making, efforts to standardize and formalize public involvement have left many local communities feeling marginalized, spurring acrimony and opposition. A significant body of research has examined barriers to effective public participation as well as strategies for relationship building in planning processes; many of which point to trust as a key factor. Trust is especially tenuous in local communities. This paper explores perceptions of trust, expectations for management, as well as constraints to building trust. In-depth interviews were conducted with 21 community members and USDA Forest Service personnel at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in northeastern Illinois. The interviews revealed that trust is perceived as important to effective management. Distinct expectations for management outcomes and processes emerged, including the values, knowledge, and capacity demonstrated in management decisions and actions and opportunities provided for communication, collaboration, and cooperation within the agency-community relationship. The case study identified several constraints to building trust, including competing values, knowledge gaps, limited community engagement, and staff turnover.