How can we develop approaches to environmental management that are both ecologically sustainable and socially just?

Our lab conducts research related to the human dimensions of natural resources with a focus on marine and coastal systems. Generally our research is collaborative and applied. We seek to develop collaborative relationships with natural resource-dependent communities to examine how they navigate both political and ecological changes in their resource systems. We draw from a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods to explore the social dimensions of natural resource issues.  Ultimately, we use our research to consider how environmental management and planning can better incorporate community concerns and perspectives.

Currently our lab is focused on several broad (and overlapping) research themes:

Coastal Resilience/Sea Level Rise (SLR):
Humboldt Bay (adjacent to the HSU campus and surrounding community) is experiencing the highest rate of sea level rise in the state of California. This has required the community to be proactive in terms of planning for a future with higher seas. There are a number of complex social, economic, political, and environmental considerations that factor into effective sea level rise planning. Projects include:

  • Dr. Richmond with ESM Faculty Jen Marlow is part of an NSF  Cascadia Coastlines and People Hazards Research Hub that spans Northern California, Oregon, and Washington to explore environmental and social aspects of coastal hazards including sea-level rise.
  • Dr. Richmond is a founding member of the Humboldt State University Sea Level Rise Initiative which brings together an interdisciplinary team of scholars and practitioners from local governments and agencies, Tribes, NGOs, planning firms, and academia to help coordinate research and planning materials related to SLR in the region.
  • Graduate student Kristen Orth-Gordinier is collaborating with the HSU SLRI on a project titled: Social science research to advance regional coordination and collaboration of sea level rise adaptation and planning on Humboldt Bay.
  • Graduate student Kristina Kunkel collaborated with Aldaron Laird and Humboldt County to host community SLR workshops in vulnerable bay-adjacent communities of King Salmon and Fairhaven. Kunkle conducted follow-up interviews in King Salmon to assess community perceptions of sea level rise.
  • Worked with a team of HSU undergraduates to examine the planning considerations for Jacobs Avenue, a low lying property adjacent to the bay that is vulnerable to flooding even today and that contains businesses that are vital to the region’s economy and tax base.

Humboldt Bay with 20 feet of sea level rise as predicted for 2120HB_2120image: Aldaron Laird 2020

Fishing & Aquaculture Communities:
save_fishermanDue to a variety of political and ecological factors, we are seeing trends of decline in small-scale and artisanal fisheries in the United States. In some areas the reduction is so extreme that fishermen have taken to calling themselves “endangered species”. Along with many collaborators, we develop research that explores the socioeconomic dimensions of fishing communities. The aim of this research is to provide managers with better information about the communities connected to the resources they regulate and to contribute to thinking about how fishing communities can reduce vulnerabilities and remain viable and strong.

Selected Projects:


  • Fishing Community Sustainability Planning for the ports of Eureka and Shelter Cove on the California North Coast — project website:
  • Socioeconomic dimensions of the Humboldt Bay mariculture industry
  • Baseline and Long-term Monitoring of the Fishing Communities of the North Coast of California (related to North Coast MPA network)
  • Examining the Socioeconomic Impacts of Hawaii’s 2010 Bigeye Tuna Closure

Social and Policy Dimensions of Marine Renewable Energy

The coast of Humboldt County is a proposed site for offshore wind development; our lab has done work to explore the socioeconomic dynamics around these types of projects.

Selected Projects:

Human Dimensions of Marine Protected Areas:
Marine protected areas (MPAs) – or sections of the ocean set aside where human activities such as fishing are restricted – have been growing in popularity as a marine conservation tool. But, as can be seen in the image below, they have also been quite controversial in communities where they’ve been implemented. As MPAs continue to be developed in new places it is crucial to gather empirical information about their social and ecological effects. Our research examines the social and economic dimensions of MPAs looking at issues such as: socioeconomic impacts of MPAs on resource users, governance processes through which MPAs are designated and managed, and community perceptions of the management and ecology of MPAs. Our work is often conducted through an environmental justice lens to investigate whether certain groups are disproportionately affected by MPAs.

NCmpas  242

Selected Projects:

  • Establishing a Statewide Baseline and Long-Term MPA Monitoring Program for Commercial and CPFV Fisheries in the State of California
  • Socioeconomic dimensions of MPAs: Establishing a baseline and assessing initial changes in California North Coast fisheries
    • Gathered 200+ surveys from commercial and charter fishermen and conducted focus groups in each of the major ports of the region (Fort Bragg, Shelter Cove, Eureka, Trinidad, and Crescent City)
  • Equity and access in marine protected areas: The history and future of
    ‘traditional indigenous fishing’ in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument

Governance of Marine Resources:
Marine resources such as fish can be tricky to manage because they are highly mobile and invisible underwater. They are also common-pool resources shared by a variety of users who have different values and needs. Additionally, the colonial context of fisheries extraction and management continues to affect Indigenous people’s access to and relationship with culturally important natural resources. We examine different types of institutional arrangements that have emerged to manage marine resources. We evaluate institutions based on their ecological and social outcomes. Much of our work has focused on community-based or co-management arrangements for fisheries governance as well as on the social justice implications of various management regimes.

Selected Projects:

  • Designation and Governance of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument
  • Examining Enabling Conditions for Community-based Fisheries Co-management: Comparing Efforts in Hawaii and American Samoa (collaboration with Dr. Arielle Levine, SDSU)
  • International Governance of the Bigeye Tuna Fishery in the WCPFC
  • Governance of the International Pacific halibut fishery

Environmental Knowledge:
Researchers and managers are increasingly recognizing that communities connected to natural resources possess important knowledge that can contribute to management discussions. Our work explores the political implications of knowledge discussions in environmental management contexts – examining the relations of power between different knowledges and communities in decision-making processes.

Politics of Research:

Our goal is to move away from an extractive research model to try to develop research approaches that respond to community concerns, respect community autonomy, and engage communities throughout the research process. We are constantly learning and seeking ways to better serve the communities with whom we work.

  • Incorporated Community Advisory Committees into fisheries research projects which met regularly to discuss research goals, methods, and the content of final research products. Community members were compensated for their time commitment to the project.
  • Statewide MPA monitoring project includes an extensive outreach process (including a community input webinar) where fishermen, agency staff members, and scholars were invited to provide their input on the approach to ensure that the monitoring program can be useful and relevant to fishing community members, policy-makers, and scientists.
  • Fishing community sustainability planning efforts in Eureka and Shelter Cove were developed as a direct response community requests and employed a bottom-up planning approach such that plans and plan recommendations reflected community views and priorities.
  • The Indigenous People’s Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographer’s Declaration of Key Questions About Research Ethics with Indigenous Communities (here) provides an important frame for thinking about any research involving Indigenous communities or concerns.

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