Rural Environmental Concern: Effects of Position, Partisanship, and Place


  • The Communities and Forests in Oregon (CAFOR) project was supported by a grant from the Disaster Resilience for Rural Communities Program, which is part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Award #2010-67023-21705). Preliminary field data collection was funded by a graduate field research grant from the Mazamas Foundation and Stevens was partially supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0801544 in the Quantitative Spatial Ecology, Evolution and Environment Program at the University of Florida. The Ketchikan and Southeast Alaska surveys received support from the USDA Rural Development program. Puget Sound surveys were funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (National Marine Fisheries Service), and the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire. Other Community and Environment in Rural America project surveys have been supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund, the Office of Rural Development in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. The UNH Survey Center conducted all telephone interviews for these surveys, while the Carsey Institute provided logistical and administrative support.


The social bases of environmental concern in rural America resemble those for the nation as a whole, but also reflect the influence of place. Some general place characteristics, such as rates of population growth or resource-industry employment, predict responses across a number of environmental issues. Other unique or distinctive aspects of local society and environment matter as well. We extend earlier work on both kinds of place effects, first by analyzing survey data from northeast Oregon. Results emphasize that “environmental concern” has several dimensions. Second, we contextualize the Oregon results using surveys from other regions. Analysis of an integrated dataset (up to 12,000 interviews in 38 U.S. counties) shows effects from respondent characteristics and political views, and from county rates of population growth and resource-based employment. There also are significant place-to-place variations that are not explained by variables in the models. To understand some of these we return to the local scale. In northeast Oregon, residents describe how perceptions of fire danger from unmanaged forest lands shape their response to the word conservation. Their local interpretation contrasts with more general and urban connotations of this term, underlining the importance of place for understanding rural environmental concern.