Environmental risk communication is scrutinized by several research fields including, as Herndl and Brown (1996) show, technical communications. This technical communications thesis rhetorically analyses how large and small government agencies in the State of Minnesota communicate a specific environmental risk: emerald ash borer (EAB). EAB is an insect native to Asia and arrived in Detroit on a cargo ship sometime in the 1990s (Cappaert 2005, 153; Poland 2011, 46). By 2012, it spread to the 15 states and two Canadian provinces (USDA--APHIS 2012). EAB's life cycle will causes tree decline in Minnesota, the state with the most ash (MNDNR 2012). Government agencies (from state to city levels) have the strong challenge of mitigating the spread of EAB. In my research, I rhetorically analyze communication in a community where EAB is yet to be found. I sought to answer this question: How does the government persuade people in situations of environmental risk? I hypothesized that much of the persuasion happens through direct communication from one government agency (in this case the MDA) to the publics. I conducted qualitative research with three people responsible for communicating the specific risk of EAB: one from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (communications coordinator), and two from a community where EAB has yet to be found (one forester and one communications coordinator). This research shows the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) as a central communicating agency using its credibility as a government agency and its reliance on scientific principles to persuade publics, while (sometimes) revising its message based on the values and beliefs of the public (Waddell 1996). Both levels of government conduct direct and indirect communication-- but also choose not to communicate some information, often to stem fears. And although Larson (2005) proposes alternatives to war metaphors in biology, the interviewees find war metaphors persuasive, and suggest their use. The MDA's genre ecology presents a strong source of persuasion for publics. Local governments use the MDA documents, along with one-on-one conversation and neighborhood meetings to persuade publics. However, the local government provides less opportunity for inclusion in the communication process because of the mostly one-way communication strategy. My findings show a need for more involvement at the local level.


Lee Tesdell

First Committee Member

Nancy MacKenzie

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)




Arts and Humanities

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License