Cultural conflict and the endangered Florida Key deer Academic Article uri icon


  • Conflict regarding the conservation and preservation of natural resources is among the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Given that management of natural resources increasingly depends on securing cooperation of culturally diverse groups of people, it is important to understand how to secure that cooperation. Endangered species management on private lands both typifies and magnifies the environmental conflicts encountered by natural resource policy makers and managers. Using an ethnographic approach, we analyzed the conflict surrounding management of the endangered Florida Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) to explore how conflict and moral culture apply to natural resource policy formation and implementation. We found disputants on Big Pine Key divided into 2 moral cultures - 1 grounded in stewardship and the other in private property rights. These moral cultures augmented the conflict by perpetuating divergent ethical perspectives and aspirations. The conflict then escalated through de-individualization, dehumanization, and demonization of those informed by the opposing moral culture. Finally, as typically occurs with serious conflicts, incompatible frames of reference created by the cultural divide not only prevented rapid de-escalation but promoted conflict-reinforcing mechanisms such as selective perception and judgment, moral exclusion, and rationalization, which led to communication breakdown and autistic hostility. Temporary solutions to superficial problems that were maladapted to conflicts involving moral culture did not ameliorate conditions and often exacerbated them. In emotionally charged decision-making venues, wildlife managers should take a proactive approach designed to encourage collaborative development of common ground among disputants. When conflicts reach a highly escalated state, as many inevitably will, their resolution will require meeting appropriate pre-negotiation conditions, then applying strategies that respond to both the level of escalation and the moral cultures involved in the particular conflict.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Peterson, M. N., Peterson, T. R., Peterson, M. J., Lopez, R. R., & Silvy, N. J.

citation count

  • 66

complete list of authors

  • Peterson, MN||Peterson, TR||Peterson, MJ||Lopez, RR||Silvy, NJ

publication date

  • October 2002