A War of Words: Do Conflict Metaphors Affect Beliefs about Managing “Unwanted” Plants?
Woody plants have increased in density and extent in rangelands worldwide since the 1800s, and land managers increasingly remove woodland plants in hopes of restoring pre-settlement conditions and/or improved forage for grazing livestock. Because such efforts can be controversial, especially on publicly owned lands, managers often attempt to frame issues in ways they believe can improve public acceptance of proposed actions. Frequently these framing efforts employ conflict metaphors drawn from military or legal lexicons. We surveyed citizens in the Rocky Mountains region, USA, about their beliefs concerning tree-removal as a management strategy. Plants targeted for removal in the region include such iconic tree species as Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine as well as other less-valued species, such as Rocky Mountain juniper, that are common targets for removal nationwide. To test the influence of issue frame on acceptance, recipients were randomly assigned surveys in which the reason for conifer removal was described using one of three terms often employed by invasive biologists and land managers: “invasion”, “expansion”, and “encroachment”. Framing in this instance had little effect on responses. We conclude the use of single-word frames by scientists and managers use to contextualize an issue may not resonate with the public.
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