Lake Simcoe Research

Environmental Harmony and Human Perception of Nature Ecosystem Management Tools For Land-Use Planning.
Paul J. Paul Harpley and Rob J. Milne – 1995

Humans and our relation to nature is a historically and socially important topic. As humans we use science and investigations to understand the world around us and raise questions about life, survival and connections. Social and Environmental science are both popular areas of study which a diverse sets of individuals investigate both academically and recreationally. Often the realms of environmental and social study are undertaken independently, however much past planning initiatives have proven that humanistic and natural considerations are vital to the future of land use planning. In Southern Ontario, the Toronto Waterfront, Greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine are examples of the new approaches to land use efficiency and sustainability initiatives that involve humans and their relations, perception and use of the environment. Social-environmental perception research is a valuable tool used by social scientists to sample societal knowledge, perceptions, values and attitudes for a wide range of issues.

Issues of humans and nature have had a complex and diverse history. Particularly in the West, the relationship between humans and nature has historically remained separate and for the most part separate, despite obvious connections. The rise of nature’s importance to humans has increased primarily due to the global biosphere’s status teetering on the verge of environmental disaster. In addition, local and national changes in climate and weather, as well as floral and faunal loss have contributed to a growing focus on environmental issues and sustainability. Sustainability is a human construct referring to the attempt to conserve ecosystems; it includes both humanistic perspectives beyond basic economic and environmental impact considerations of traditional assessment approaches. Sustainability involves both an awareness of environmental issues and actions that reflect an awareness of those issues. Sustainability has been very difficult to achieve because of the societal focus on economic growth and accumulation.

Human perceptions of the environment originate from sensations, notions or intuitions and attitudes formed based on experience norms and lifestyle. As a result of the diversity of human interaction and opinions about the environment, environmental perception is difficult to categorize, understand and measure. Investigating our social and organizational worlds is integral to determine how these relationships can influence human perception of the environment and through politics and policy, affect land use planning and design decisions in communities. Environmental sociology is one way in which academics and scientists alike are trying to create an interdisciplinary area of study that includes the full diversity of humans and the environment.

Resource Management and Land-Use Planning

Cross-disciplinary approaches are necessary in land-use planning developments and ecosystem management. Similar to working towards sustainable practices, in order to study resource management and land use, an understanding humanistic perspectives of these issues and their relation to humans is necessary. By bringing together humanistic and biophysical perspectives, humans will better be able to find successful solution designs in landscape planning and land-use methodology.

Technology is another realm of human and environmental action and understanding that holds great importance. Technology can act as a paradox where it allows humans to learn, understand and connect more with the environment but also can act as a barrier and a distraction separating humans further from the environment. For example, reliance on technology solutions can create norms of disillusionment that technology will solve environmental issues, when they cannot . In order to establish and maintain harmony between humans and the environment it is essential to investigate these often competing perspectives. Therefore, rigorous environmental perception research could provide insights into current trends and provide a base for strategic planning. For example, in the Lake Simcoe Watershed, past environmental perception research by the Zephyr Society of Lake Simcoe has resulted in the development of a conceptual environmental watershed management model stressing the concept of harmony.

The Lake Simcoe watershed covers 3707 square km. and is dominated by Lake Simcoe itself. There have been significant population increases in the last decade, which have variously altered natural habitat areas and impacted the diversity and ecological form and function of the surrounding environments. The Lake continually serves as an important recreational and commercial resource in Southern Ontario. Due to the demands being placed on Lake Simcoe and the lands that form its drainage basins, the water quality of the lake has been documented deteriorating in through eutrophication. The future design of land use planning in this watershed will be critical to the health and sustainability.

The South Lake Simcoe Naturalists and the Zephyr Society of Lake Simcoe have conducted research on social and environmental perception in the Lake Simcoe Watershed; this work was designed to understand and illustrate the importance of resource management issues in the Lake Simcoe watershed based on social perception. Surveys were conducted during the months of May to August in the years of 1992 and 1993. Visitor and Residence perception was probed in this survey research. Overall it was confirmed that residents were both more knowledgeable of the state of the lake and watershed than visitors. For example, while tourists and visitors may look at the Lake and watershed and see its beauty in their enjoyment of it, residents who are fully immersed in the environment for extended periods understand the wider dynamics of that environment.

Results from the survey revealed that visitors viewed themselves as separate from the environment, while residents viewed themselves as part of nature due to its presence in their everyday life. The results presented in this study are typical of many resource management and landscape-use issues in the Lake Simcoe watershed and elsewhere across Canada. Many people are simply unaware of issues and therefore, despite interest to contribute, do not participate in meaningful discourse of resource management, or significantly influence decision making.

This study concluded that more research is needed in the area of characteristics and perceptions of the general public. In many cases research in the past has relied too much on personal interviews and mailed surveys. In future projects techniques like direct observation and analysis of written simulation would be worth experimentation. Policy changes can only be a result of discussion and decision making, studying policy making can assist in discovering new strategies to access public perception and formulate policies that are not only sustainable but simplified for the general public to engage with. Future environmental perception work is being conducted by the Zephyr Society of Lake Simcoe and will be reported in future years.

The Diagram below is a conceptual watershed management model developed in 1995 – “The Environmental Harmony Model” (Figure 2) which is focused on environmental perception as the active resource-management component of integration based on the Lake Simcoe area research. Application of methodology, consistent with the structure of this model provides the possibility for planners to address specific land-use conflicts in the future within a watershed context, to arrive at an increasing state of harmony.

Lake Simcoe Research – Environmental Harmony and Human Perception of Nature
Full Book Chapter Reference:

Harpley, P.J. and R.J. Milne, (1995). Environmental Harmony and Human Perception of Nature: Ecosystem Management Tools for Land-use Planning. In Environmental Sociology: Theory and Practice (eds.) M.D. Mehta and E. Ouellet, Captus Press Inc.

Please contact the Zephyr Society of Lake Simcoe for full book chapter.