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Journal Edition Highlights U of I Research Helping Mountain Communities Respond to Environmental Challenges

January 31, 2018

Outbreaks of bark beetles, a common pest of conifers in the American West, are rising due to long-term climate change. As this and other natural events affect mountain landscapes, nearby communities must understand, adapt and respond to minimize the impacts on their societies and economies. 

This is one common denominator behind five articles written by University of Idaho researchers and their colleagues for a special issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, an academic journal of the Ecological Society of America.  

The special issue, titled “Social-Ecological Systems in Mountain Landscapes,” highlights the use of social-ecological systems (SES) science, a field that uses anthropology, ecology, economics, hydrology and geography to explain the balance between communities, their economies and the ecosystems around them.

The research was funded through the Mountain Social Ecological Observatory Network (MtnSEON), a five-year research program led by College of Art and Architecture researcher Lilian Alessa and Jim Gosz of the College of Natural Resources. Both work in U of I’s Center for Resilient Communities.

Topics covered in the issue include the human aspects of predator-livestock interactions in the American West, social-ecological perspectives for riverscape management in the Columbia River Basin, and the use of social-ecological observatories to carry out SES studies. 

“Traditional ecology is focused on everything in the environment except for people; but it’s changing,” said Professor Andrew Kliskey of the College of Natural Resources. Kliskey is co-director of the center, which was formed to address the challenges faced by communities regarding complex environmental issues.

“We need to look at relationships between people, the environment, ecosystems and the dynamic interplay between them,” Kliskey said.

The researchers’ special issue examines the diverse challenges in managing mountain landscapes, including conflicts between ranchers and forest managers over predator populations, between different agencies over the regulation of river flows and conservation of native salmonids, and between ecologists and economists over the bark beetle’s impacts on Western forests.

“Because these issues are neither only ecological nor only social in nature, their successful management requires innovative SES approaches that include understanding the dynamics and interactions among the many aspects of mountain landscapes — ecological, physical and social,” Kliskey said. “But regardless of the solution, an imperative is the willingness to listen and incorporate perspectives different to your own, along with the need to be adaptive to constantly changing circumstances.” 

The articles showcase new collaborations among scientists, managers and stakeholders in the West, including, the universities of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado; the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Geological Survey; and the Blackfeet and Fort Peck community colleges. 

“Ultimately, efforts in SES science should pave the way for new directions in research, management and policy,” Kliskey said. “These papers provide specific examples of potential methodologies and settings in which SES science can be successfully used and implemented.”

The Mountain Social Ecological Observatory Network was funded by a project titled, “RCN-SEES: Advancing Our Social and Environmental Understanding of Complex Mountain Landscapes and Their Vulnerability to Environmental Change.” It was funded under National Science Foundation grant No. 1231233. The total amount of federal funds for the project is $749,673, which amounts to 100 percent of its total cost. 

Media Contacts:
Phillip Bogdan
Marketing and Communications Manager, Office of Research and Economic Development
University of Idaho

Liza Lester
Public Information Manager
Ecological Society of America
Washington, D.C.
202-833-8773, ext. 211

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, a research and Extension center in Twin Falls, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to more than 11,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference and Sun Belt Conference. Learn more: