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Decisions about dams, like other environmental conflicts, involve complex trade-offs between different water uses with varying human and ecological impacts. Given the many upcoming dam decisions in New England, an improved understanding of public preferences is needed to steward resources. This research asks (1) What does the public want to see happen with dams? and (2) How do public preferences regarding dam removal vary with demography and politics? We address these questions using data from three random sample statewide telephone polls conducted in New Hampshire over 2018 that asked people for their preferences concerning dam removal versus maintaining dams for specific benefits—industrial history, property values, recreation, or hydropower generation. Respondent age, education, gender, and political party were tested among the possible predictors. We find that when considering industrial history or property values, the majority of respondents favor removing dams. Similarly, when faced with using dams for recreation, respondents favor removal, but to a lesser degree. A plurality prefer keeping dams, however, if they are used to generate hydropower. Respondent background characteristics and political identity affect these preferences in ways resembling those for many other environment-related issues: women, young or middle-aged individuals, and political liberals or moderates more often support removal. Education, on the other hand, has no significant effects. The results quantify levels of public support for dam removal, illustrating the use of public opinion polling to complement input from public meetings and guide decisions. More broadly, they contribute to existing scholarship on the social bases of environmental concern.

This presentation was given virtually by Natallia Leuchanka Diessner at the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting on April 8, 2021.

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Support for this project is provided by the National Science Foundation’s Research Infrastructure Improvement Program NSF #IIA-1539071. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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