Over 80 years ago, Aldo Leopold, one of the icons of wildlife management, referenced the social science when he said, “There are two things that interest me: the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to the land.” This recognition of the interaction between humans and natural resources is not new; what is new is a greater emphasis on the integration of these interactions and how they can be more systematically understood.
In short, social science deals with the assessment and application of social information to fish and wildlife management decision making. It is that suite of issues related to how people value natural resources, how they want those resources to be managed, and how they affect and are affected by those resources and related decisions. For natural resource work, this can be addressed by multiple disciplines including economics, sociology, psychology, geography, anthropology, political science, and communications. Within those disciplines, there are a number of quantitative (surveys, stakeholder evaluations, demographic assessments, land use trends) and qualitative tools (focus groups and interviews), as well as economic modeling and decision analyses and support tools.
These techniques are not completely new to the Joint Venture. In 2006, PLJV conducted a survey of 1,800 landowners in the western Great Plains with the purpose of determining the baseline of landowner knowledge of playas and their willingness to conduct conservation work. Based on the survey results, we’ve focused our communication messages for the past ten years around playas and aquifer recharge, promoting it through film, electronic newsletters, flyers, websites, and the Playa Country radio show. As a follow-up to the survey, 13 landowner focus groups were completed in the summer of 2013. During the focus groups, it became clear that producers want more information about playas and recharge before deciding whether to conserve or restore their playas. So, in 2015, PLJV held a Playa Recharge Summit with 14 playa experts to get the answers to landowners’ questions based on the most recent scientific knowledge.