Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences

Committee Member

Elizabeth Baldwin

Committee Member

Robert Jones

Committee Member

Drew J Lanham

Committee Member

Wayne Freimund


The Clemson Experimental Forest (CEF) is a 17,500-acre forest surrounding and owned by Clemson University. Loved by many, it is a working forest managed for sustainable timber harvest and used to provide a laboratory for teaching, research, and demonstration based on its affiliation with Clemson University and its charter through the New Deal. The Clemson Experimental Forest is a setting for recreation and re-creation by those in the greater Clemson community and the Upstate of South Carolina. As the population in the Southeast United States grows, so too do the impacts and pressures on natural areas. The CEF is experiencing these challenges, which are exacerbated by a poor understanding of the forest’s mission and purpose among a variety of interest groups that use the forest. The intended purpose and uses of the forest were developed in the 1930s. Since then, Clemson University and the pressures on the forest have grown in both size and complexity, but the mission and purpose of the forest have not been altered to reflect these changes. To better align the mission of the forest with current needs and resource management strategies, it is important to examine current perceptions of the mission, particularly among leaders who are responsible for managing the resource. This research attempts to identify the purpose of the forest as defined by contemporary decision leaders and analyze the leaders’ viewpoints in light of the legal statutes defining the system, the opportunities and threats to the system, and ethical implications. Data for this research came from interviews with decision leaders related to the CEF system, document and artifact analysis, survey data, and comparative analyses. The approach was that of being an embedded researcher, meaning that I was involved in regular meetings related to the CEF, developed professional relationships with decision leaders and other sources of information and spent time weekly in the forest for the research period. Data were analyzed inductively to develop an understanding of the definition of the system through the lens of transformation, deductively through the lens of three theoretical frameworks, and finally through the lens of critical inquiry to understand the ruptures of normativity and help ethically integrate management decisions with the identity of the system over the long-term. Findings indicate 1) that there is not alignment with how the purpose of the forest is perceived and acted on, and the differences have had consequences over time, 2) Because of this lack of alignment there are major limits to the system that are diminishing the system, 3) There is a limited view of the relevance and meaning of the landscape temporally, intellectually, and, spatially and 4) this limited view affects the relevance and impact of the place to the Academy and the citizens of South Carolina. This research is an examination of what it would take for decision leaders and the community to innovate within the system and increase the capabilities to respond to adaptations at multiple scales. Providing for a variety of services along a spectrum of biodiversity protection to revenue generation, a natural area like a university forest provides significant values to a community and it is the aim of this research is to identify and understand these values using the CEF as a model system.



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