Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Environmental Resources & Policy

First Advisor

Kraft, Steven


Legitimacy in natural resource management refers to the degree to which citizens accept and comply with stated goals and policies. Lack of legitimacy can threaten collaborative-based watershed groups that rely on voluntary compliance to achieve their water quality goals. These groups are locally-based, and sprouted up due to the complexities and political barriers that have prevented better control of non-point, or diffuse, pollution off the landscape and into streams and lakes. One of the most cited requirements for legitimacy in natural resource collaborations is inclusive representation. An exploratory study of several watershed groups in Wisconsin and Illinois uncovered a worrisome exclusion of key stakeholders in the watershed along with an absence of certain demographic groups. Key underrepresented stakeholders included farmers, federal government officials, and national environmental groups. The absence of farmer participation is especially troubling considering the large amount of agricultural land contained within two of the basins studied. In addition, the voluntary nature of watershed group collaboration led to a stilted demographic base, with white males of higher income and education dominating the process. Public participation in watershed groups has been cited numerous times in the literature as a key ingredient of legitimacy, yet it seems that the citizens in the watershed rely on elected officials for their representation. Results from this survey uncovered a lack of participation by elected officials, however, and this provided another barrier to inclusive and high-quality representation in watershed organizations. Another common feature of watershed collaborations is consensus decision-making, but these consensus groups often exhibited exclusion of "difficult" stakeholders, as well as self-exclusion of people who lacked patience with the time-consuming nature of the process. Survey results also indicated that some people felt contentious issues were being avoided in an attempt to reach consensus, as was documented in the literature. Accountability was an identified as a threat to legitimacy in both the focus groups and surveys, and there were doubts about follow-through once projects were agreed upon. Umbrella organizations that provided capacity-building and scientific expertise would often switch to other funded projects, and some wondered if outcomes could be maintained. Government was often cited in the surveys and focus groups as an entity that can be used to foster accountability, but the same respondents seemed to detest more government regulation while embracing accountability. Overall, respondents seemed conflicted about the role of government in these collaborations. Lack of trust was found to be very intense in the two Wisconsin watersheds, due mostly to run-ins with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Lack of trust spurred participation in watershed groups, particularly, when property owners lived lakeside. Meetings would become crowed as landowners wary of regulation or restrictions on their property came to protect their turf. While lack of trust may encourage participation, it also reduces overall legitimacy in the three watersheds studied in this paper, and still appears to be a large stumbling block to legitimacy despite many years of effort. Scientific uncertainty regarding sources of pollutants added to distrust between municipalities in the Illinois watershed, and this was exacerbated by a paucity of monitoring stations and baseline data. The watershed groups studied in this paper were three of the most successful and long-standing collaborations in this region -- and benefitted from effective leadership, capacity-building at multiple scales, transparency, and quality representation. But even in these groups many red flags emerged to threaten legitimacy, and hence the long-term sustainability and success of such groups. More research is needed to test some of the ideas uncovered here, but relying on a voluntary-approach to deal with the insidious problem of non-point source pollution may be a recipe for disaster. Alternative management strategies must be developed to combat runoff pollution, and it seems that more regulation and strict benchmarks should be instituted at the local level --- and be nested within larger scales at the state, regional, and federal level. In this type of strategy the local government would provide the "sticks" with land-use controls and pollution fees, and the state could be a source of "carrots" in the way of funding for projects.




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