Mismatching in the spatial scales of social structures and ecological processes complicates the management of natural resources. Here we suggest the use of variance components to determine at which spatial scale variation in feelings, environmental attitudes and value orientation is largest and hence most exposed to conflicts. We estimated the variance components of the feeling of fear for large carnivores, environmental attitudes towards large carnivores and environmental value orientation at 3 scales (municipality, county and country) in Norway and Sweden. The feeling of fear for specific carnivores had the highest variance components at the municipality level, we found no specific scale that best explained the variance in attitudes towards carnivores in general, while attitudes based on environmental value orientation showed the highest variance components at the country level. To match the social-ecological systems, we conclude that management units have to be designed as the best possible trade-off between the social and ecological scales; i.e. largest possible to maintain ecological sustainability, but small enough to maintain a low degree of social conflicts.