A case study of 48 forest managers in the Dungeness River watershed in Washington State revealed four main cognitive models of the forest ecology of the watershed. Organizing principles for the four models were the concept of wilderness, timber management, forests as habitat or 'home' for humans and animals, and a bureaucratic orientation that incorporated forest regulation and policy. Managers' ecological cognitions varied with multiple personal, institutional, and cultural influences. Managers with a wilderness orientation represented a common wilderness-civilization dichotomy in American thought, while the cognition of managers with a timber orientation appeared to be largely a product of professional training. The habitat orientation coincided with a close economic relationship to the land, i.e., direct use of land for subsistence or income as a farmer or logger. The bureaucratic orientation appeared to develop with experience as a middle or upper manager in public agencies. Considerable diversity in ecological cognition appeared within forest management institutions. This contradicts previous research suggesting that managers in the same institutions become homogenized in their thought.

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