Governance, Management, and Policy

Governance, management, and policy in the domain of human-environment interactions is a broad field that examines the wide range of ways in which human societies attempt to intentionally regulate interactions with their biophysical environments, particularly in this era of rapid socioeconomic globalization and environmental change. It encompasses a continuum of approaches, ranging from the formal treaties, laws, policies, and regulations of states to the internal environmental policies of firms, and from the growing roles of non-state actors such as NGOs in formulating, monitoring, and enforcing environmental policy around the world, to informal or traditional norms within a society regarding who has access to or control over resources. Environmental governance, management, and policy occur at many different scales, ranging from the extremely local up through the national and global, and in many different social contexts, ranging from wealthy countries, through very rapidly growing and industrializing countries, to poorer regions dependent on natural resource industries. As such ranges suggest, research in this domain can be about environmental governance in a particular location; about a specific approach in the abstract; about the effects of a particular set of actors or rules in multiple locations; about the ways in which multiple approaches to or scales of environmental governance intersect with each other; about the relative efficacy or equity of various approaches; or many other questions.

Major areas of research in the department in this domain include:

  • Climate change policy and ethics
  • Approaches to conservation, particular protected areas
  • Property regimes and their environmental and social outcomes
  • Agricultural management
  • Neoliberalism in environmental governance and policy
  • U.S. environmental policy

Water policy


Brian King's research considers the institutional frameworks that shape environmental governance within rural areas. Much of his work in South Africa has addressed the ways that the emergence of newly created governance structures and environmental legislation is challenging the role of traditional systems. Community residents increasingly identify governmental agencies as the vehicles for development initiatives, which has challenged the influence of tribal authorities in the post-apartheid era.

Much of the research by Brent Yarnal and his students involves working directly with local decision-makers - local officials, planners, resource managers, emergency managers, business owners, and homeowners - to help them use scientific understanding in their short- and long-range planning and emergency management. This grassroots-based, participatory research uses local knowledge to build plans that are tailored to local conditions and norms. These efforts have contributed to, for example, Penn State's actions to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions, the State of Hawaii's tsunami emergency management plan, and Sarasota County, Florida's hurricane emergency management plan.

Karl Zimmerer's research contains a focus on the interplay of the two strategies, with a focus on agricultural management within and near protected areas (such as biosphere reserves and parks), both national and international (principally Latin America, the Caribbean, and South and Southeast Asia). One of his current projects is a comparison of protected area and agro-environmental policy and management for six major Latin American countries. Zimmerer also pursues research on human-environment interactions of biological diversity in farming systems---such as land-use-choice knowledge and decisions. His current research is focused on management styles and spatial interactions of environmentally sustainable land use amid new and ongoing change processes. He is undertaking a project on this theme that compares the social interactions and spatial dynamics of land use change in high-agrobiodiversity irrigation maize in Bolivia with organic dairy farming in the Upper Midwest of the U.S.

Riparia (Robert Brooks and Denice Wardrop) engages in research that directly informs wetland policy and regulation at both the state and national scales. Riparia has developed monitoring and assessment protocols and tools that form the basis of Pennsylvania's wetland management policy, as well as significantly contribute to the US EPA's design guidelines for wetland monitoring and assessment programs. Riparia also maintains the commonwealth's Reference Wetland collection, a set of 235 wetland sites across Pennsylvania whose characterization data serves as a powerful database for program and policy development.