How decision-makers are using local ecological knowledge and participatory processes to recover from hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico
This case study details decision-making, or governance, following the major coastal hazard of Hurricane Harvey in the Gulf of Mexico in the United States. It focuses on participatory governance, defined as stakeholder-driven decision-making and management, in the process of hurricane recovery. Participatory governance of recreational ecosystem services (e.g. recreational fishing and wildlife viewing) increased after Hurricane Harvey, which enhanced coastal resilience, or the ability to absorb the disturbance and recover after the hazard. This research suggests that hurricane recovery may act as what policy process theory calls a “window of opportunity” for policy makers to enhance resilience through innovative, participatory governance processes detailed in this presentation. Participatory governance is seeing decision-makers and stakeholders seeking out new and innovative funding sources for rapid recreational infrastructure repairs focused on resilience. Decision-makers are also drawing on civil society groups to enact novel participatory coastal planning processes focused on resilient rebuilding of coastlines and historic waterfronts. Decision makers are enhancing their capacity to include local ecological knowledge in novel and potentially transformative ways, evidenced in the use of recreational fisher knowledge to plan habitat restoration. Recreational ecosystem services, due to their economic importance and popularity may even lead to rare bipartisan action on the contentious issue of climate change, enabling decision-makers to address climate impacts under the cover of ambiguity. Ambiguity, a concept drawn from the discipline of public policy, is where climate resilience policies can be enacted under the guise of more popular activities, such as restoring popular fishing habitats, beach-going infrastructure, or wildlife viewing areas. Ambiguity and hazards of “windows of opportunity” for participatory coastal decision-making may be a model for climate policy in similar states with climate skeptic decision-makers in the Gulf of Mexico.