Perceptual indicators of environmental health, future land use, and stewardship.
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There are important linkages between the health of humans and the environment, restoration of degraded lands, and long-term stewardship of public lands, yet most environmental indicators deal only with assessing the physical and biological aspects of ecosystems. In this article, we examine the ratings of perceptions of several environmental problems for their utility as indicators of environmental quality, and examine perceptions of future land use by people interviewed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, near the Department of Energy's (DOE) Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Overall, people with lower incomes rated environmental problems as more severe than others, were more willing to spend federal funds to solve them, and were consistent in their ratings of severity of environmental problems and their willingness to spend federal funds. Cleaning up LANL and other Department of Energy sites, received the highest rating for expenditure of federal funds. The highest rated future uses for DOE sites were for recreation and for National Environmental Research Parks. People with less education generally gave higher ratings to most future land uses for DOE than did those with more education. However, those with higher education gave higher ratings to nuclear reprocessing, and nuclear material storage. Where there were differences, the people interviewed at Santa Fe rated all environmental problems (except pesticides) as more severe than did those previously interviewed in Albuquerque (located farther from the LANL site), and they were more willing to spend federal funds on these problems. Ratings for all future land uses did not differ between the Santa Fe and Albuquerque respondents. These perception-based indicators show general agreement among people living close and farther away from LANL with respect to cleaning up LANL and the future land uses for the site. These indicators should be considered by regulators, site personnel, and policy makers in future management and land use decisions.