First Advisor

Craig Shinn

Term of Graduation

Summer 2021

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Affairs and Policy


Public Affairs and Policy




Forest reserves, Land use -- Planning, Geographic information systems. United States. Forest Service -- Case studies



Physical Description

1 online resource (xv, 216 pages)


Understanding human-environment connections to places is an important component of land-use management. Tools for collecting geographically referenced public values-based data (defined as socio-spatial data) for use in natural resource planning have been reported in academic journals for decades. The utility of socio-spatial data is in making public values tangible and potentially actionable in land-use analyses and decision processes. However, there is a lack of comprehensive documentation on the ways in which socio-spatial data is perceived, collected, interpreted and applied at a practical level. A better understanding of these factors allows planners to mitigate barriers and leverage opportunities to more effectively collect and incorporate public values into planning.

Using the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) as a case study, this research explores the barriers and opportunities in incorporating socio-spatial data into land-use decisions, focusing on the forest plan revision process. Applied thematic analysis is used to identify themes derived from interviews with USFS personnel at research stations, regional offices and a sample of national forests. Findings indicate forest planners collect and apply this type of data using a diverse suite of tools, at numerous points in the process, and this data impacts decisions in direct and indirect ways. Socio-spatial data were used to identify special places, mediate conflicting use preferences, assess and revise proposed boundary areas, and inform standard analyses, such as the recreation opportunity spectrum.

Budget issues that directly impact staff capacity are the most pressing barriers, creating a scarcity of social scientists within the agency that reverberates through the system and hinders the ability to collect and use socio-spatial data. However, opportunities exist in leveraging existing participatory processes to expand collection of socio-spatial data beyond the forest plan revision process, such as using the USFS's Talking Points Collaborative Mapping application. More expansive use of the tool will make visible the utility of socio-spatial data. Recommendations include additional research, such as using contingency theory to delve deeper into the impacts of decisions, particularly focusing on the impacts of trade-offs on the integration of public values into planning documents. Educators also play a key role in advocating for professional development courses that focus on public values in natural resource planning and highlight the utility of socio-spatial data in this context. This would not only infuse skills needed in the workforce, but also establish use of socio-spatial data in decision-making as a best practice in natural resource management.


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