Interaction between scientists and nonscientists in community-based watershed management: Emergence of the concept of stream naturalization

Bruce L. Rhoads, David Wilson, Michael Urban, Edwin E. Herricks

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Watershed management, although dependent on science and engineering, is first and foremost a social process. Given the current emphasis on community- based approaches to environmental decision making, scientists must, more than ever before, understand, appreciate, respect, and immerse themselves within local social contexts. Only by doing so will they be able to ensure that their opinions and information are fairly and meaningfully considered by nonscientists. The authors' personal experience in watershed planning and decision making in the agricultural Midwest is described to illustrate how: (1) formalization of the process of community-based management is not sufficient to guarantee that local people will meaningfully consider scientific information and opinion when making decisions about watersheds, and (2) genuine social interaction between scientists and nonscientists requires a considerable investment of time and energy on the part of the scientist to develop personal relationships with nonscientists based on trust and mutual exchange of information. This experience provides the basis for developing a general conceptual model of the interaction between scientists and nonscientists in community-based watershed management in the agricultural Midwest. An important aspect of integrating science effectively into community-based decision making is the need to revise existing concepts to accommodate place-based contexts. Stream naturalization is introduced as an alternative to stream restoration and rehabilitation, which are viewed as inappropriate management strategies in human-dominated environments. Stream naturalization seeks to establish sustainable, morphologically and hydraulically varied, yet dynamically stable fluvial systems that are capable of supporting healthy, biologically diverse aquatic ecosystems. This general goal is consistent with the types of stream-management practices emerging from community-based decision making in human-dominated, agricultural landscapes. Further research on the linkages between geomorphological and ecological dynamics of human-modified agricultural streams over multiple spatial and temporal scales is needed to provide a sound scientific framework for stream naturalization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-308
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1999


  • Community-based decision making
  • Stream naturalization
  • Watershed management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution


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