personal values

It’s very dry out our way now. Our  garden has turned from every shade of green to every shade of green and brown. The tall native grasses have died back and deciduous trees have almost all dropped their leaves or are reddening; their trunks are skeletal, shrunken against the torch-dry landscape. Even the normally bright blue sky is tinted smoke brown. Serenity can be found in the wattle yellows and turkey bush pinks.

With the change in visual aesthetic has come a change in the audible aesthetic. A noticeable shift in bird species around my block, returns forgotten but familiar sounds to the day and night. Fairy martins soar silently overhead but grey-crowned babblers chatter sociably through the woodland. A rufous owl, possibly the same one who came last year, spends his nights whoo-whoooing loudly from the mature mahogany next to our house. The large-tailed nightjar has returned, adding his voice to the night shift. His endless tok tok tok is beautifully monotonous, a little like the pattering drop of mahogany leaves that sound ironically like raindrops falling onto our iron roof. Almost overnight spangled drongos have started up their rusty pipe call and the black butcherbirds’ whistling melody is a refreshing diversion.

These are some of the notes that will make up our soundtrack for the dry season months ahead. Our pleasure in them comes from the variety, the richness of species that come and go with the seasons. How much greater our appreciation when we think about the alternative: the tragic silence of birds.

Threatened species management is a dynamic social process often involving diverse groups and individuals such as government wildlife conservation managers, environmental policy managers, non-profit environmental organisations, land owners/managers, businesses, community conservation groups and individual champions. Each of these groups/individuals is defined by their motivation in respect of the species under threat. Group members may be involved due to deriving a strong social identity from their participation. They therefore tend to conform to the norms of the group in order to be accepted by it and aim to achieve a mutually agreed outcome. Individuals in contrast may have a more direct relationship with the species in question and tend to have high emotional investment in achieving their desired outcome.

Motivations are often highly charged and oppositional and are one of the most common reasons for the failure of threatened species recovery programs.

Clark and Wallace (1998) have written about the social process in threatened species management and how to conduct social process mapping. They define social process as: “the interaction of people as they influence the actions, plans or policies of other people, even if they are unaware of each other. It is the process by which we create and sustain the human community.” In social process mapping one identifies that the interaction between people and the problem can be the cause of the endangered species crisis, while the interaction among people can be the site of the solution.

They go on to describe how one of the central concepts in the social process model is the interplay of human values: “Policy scientists have classed all human values – everything that people in all cultures, in all times, at all ages, at all levels have strived for – into eight functional categories: power, wealth, enlightenment, well-being, affection, skill, respect and rectitude…Understanding which values are predominantly at play and how they are exchanged functionally – figuring out who is indulged and who is deprived in specific recovery cases – is the key to understanding social process practically.”

Somewhere in the middle of these two levels of values is the question of personal environmental identity. Clayton and Opotow in their 2003 book “Identity and the Natural Environment”  state: “…as a consequence of environmental experiences such as tree planting or exposure to wild animals in a zoo, an environmental identity that was initially rooted in social, community experiences can expand to include the natural world…the environment can transform social identity, increasingly playing a larger role in one’s sense of self and one’s world view as a person in nature. Similarly, an environmental identity that had been attuned to less social forces and more to the rhythm, challenges, or beauty of the natural world, can become more politically and socially charged as threats to the environment are discerned. As social concerns intrude on what had previously been a more direct relationship with nature, environmental identity comes to include social issues, affiliations, and oppositions.”

The interaction between the personal functional values of group members, their personal environmental identity and the various values they hold for the threatened bird in question is a complex and fascinating dynamic which I will be attempting to unravel in my case studies and which will undoubtedly bring new insights to the success or failure of recovery programs. Identifying the means by which areas of conflict amongst opposing parties can be resolved in order to develop broad agreement in terms of strategy and desired outcomes will be invaluable to those attempting to pursue future conservation programs.

1. Clark and Wallace 1998. Understanding the human factor in endangered species recovery: an introduction to human social process. Endangered Species Update 15(1): 2-9.

2. Clayton and Opotow 2003. Identity and the Natural Environment: the psychological significance of nature. MIT Press: USA.