Adaptive Capacity of Human Communities to Environmental Disturbance
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This dissertation explores aspects of resident and community adaptive capacity to environmental disturbance in the context of wildfire and hurricane in Lee County, Florida. It is comprised of an introduction chapter and three articles written for publication in peer-reviewed journals. The first study is based on focus groups with community leaders, land/emergency management and other professionals to examine how social elements of adaptive capacity for wildfire interact with structural conditions at the local level. Structuration theory helps to explain how different manifestations of community action might be needed for adaptation to wildfire risk given different structural conditions. Results suggest that preexisting structural conditions, especially land development patterns, influence adaptive capacity and identify a number of local social characteristics and processes that support adaptation.The second study draws on interviews with residents in three communities to explore shared wildfire and hurricane risk perceptions. Participants perceived significantly lower wildfire risk, said they were less knowledgeable about how to mitigate and prepare for wildfires, and suggested they are doing less to deliberately adapt to wildfire risk in contrast to high hurricane risk perception, knowledge, and perceived adaptive capacity. The different perceptions of risk seem linked to several factors: direct experience with Hurricane Charley in 2004, different scales of impact, the local "hurricane culture," effectiveness of local ordinances and development patterns, perceived predictability of the event, and perceived ability to control the event. This study highlights the contention that while researchers tend to focus on a single environmental disturbance, residents and communities often face risk from multiple, potentially competing disturbances.The final study examines generic adaptive capacity, or the elements of adaptive capacity that enable adaptation to multiple types of disturbance. Although wildfire risk has significantly less salience than hurricane risk for participants, results suggest that study communities have built generic elements of adaptive capacity: (1) interactional and organizational capacities; (2) professional knowledge and extra-local networks; and (3) local knowledge, resources and skills. While wildfire adaptation is not many participants' focus, wildfire adaptive capacity exists independently and is indirectly fostered by the process of implementing adaptive decisions and building adaptive capacity for hurricane.