Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Robert Emmet Jones

Committee Members

R. Scott Frey, Thomas C. Hood, Suzanne B. Kurth, Joanne Logan


Urban forest management is being increasingly recognized as a viable policy vehicle for improving the overall quality of life in urban regions, promoting economic well-being as well as mitigating some of the environmental impacts of urbanization. As a complex system of ecological merit, the urban forest is ultimately dependent upon community-directed efforts to protect and maintain its health, largely through tree ordinances. An understanding of how values and other social factors trigger public concern for and management of the local urban forest is important because of ramifications of community urban forestry policy on regional ecosystem functional capacity. This dissertation investigates the influence of individual experience with trees, knowledge about trees, and tree-related attitudes and beliefs on public support for management strategies to protect the urban forest. Attitude theory forms the foundation of the empirical approach used in this study. Drawing from place theory, attitudes representing Sense of Place were hypothesized to also play a role in explaining variation in homeowners’ support of urban forest protection strategies. Data were obtained from a public opinion survey of 800 homeowners living in a major urban area in Southern Appalachia and joined with measurements of tree canopy density. Geographic information systems software was used to create measures of tree canopy density from Light Detection and Ranging data for varying aerial extents around the survey respondents’ properties. Theoretical constructs were formulated and deployed in structural equation models to test the validity of the hypothesized relationships among the constructs, representing predictors of public support for urban forest protection policy. The modeling results showed that place-based contexts are significant in the prediction of community willingness to support higher levels of urban forest protection. Findings from this study suggest that although the presence of urban trees in one’s neighborhood leads a homeowner to place greater importance on various attributes of trees, this does not automatically lead to support for strong tree ordinances. One also must have a basis of attachment to tree places, which is predicted by tree knowledge and experience with caring for trees around one’s home. In conclusion, limitations and suggestions for future research are provided.

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