Natural Resources, School of


First Advisor

Mark Burbach

Second Advisor

Blair Zaid

Third Advisor

Chris Chizinski

Date of this Version



Hinnant, J. F. (2022). Exploring Social Dimensions of Ecological Restoration in the Removal of Two Dams on the Elwha River. Unpublished Master's Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science Major: Natural Resource Sciences Under the Supervision of Professor Mark E. Burbach Lincoln, Nebraska : May, 2022

Copyright © 2022 Joseph F. Hinnant


The United States is approaching a critical juncture regarding aging dam infrastructure. One increasingly common decision has been to remove dams, recreating a free-flowing river. The attention of the literature on ecological restoration is shifting from an ecological focus towards the importance of participation and the social dimensions of restorations. Social situations surrounding a dam removal can lead to expedited success, delays, or abandoned efforts. This study seeks to connect selected social dimensions of dam removals with the broader literature of ecological restoration by exploring social dimensions expressed in public participation in a dam removal process.

A directed content analysis, qualitative research design, was employed to study selected social dimensions of dam removals. A codebook was developed to explore six social dimensions within public comment letters surrounding the removal of two dams on the Elwha River in Washington.

The findings of this study revealed those with positive restoration attitude framed dam removal around potential ecological, economic, and social gains and more frequently referenced social dimensions of environmental attitude, place attachment, connectedness to nature, and sense of community. While participants with negative restoration attitude framed the dam removals around possible losses centered more of their testimonies around the economic situation surrounding dam removals. These findings emphasize the importance of framing, public participation, and future work regarding social dimensions of dam removal.

As this restoration method becomes commonplace, environmental managers need to be able to effectively engage the public and understand not only ecological dimensions, but also social dimensions of dam removals.

Advisor: Mark E. Burbach