2012-05-13 12.05.22People pose risks to natural resources in the form of, for example, poaching. Conservation policies pose risks to people by, for example, excluding them from access to natural resources. These risks are often managed. Managers may base risk management on assessed probabilities while publics focus on aspects managers define out of the problem based on their intuitive judgment. Or, managers may promote risk management policies that are dismissed by publics because publics perceive risk differently than managers. Poor risk management may lead to ineffective natural resource governance. Improving risk management requires enhancing concepts of risk for conservation. My graduate students and I conduct research in places such as Madagascar, Namibia, and Michigan.

My students and I currently conduct applied research on a diversity of topics falling under 4 main themes:

  1. *Conservation criminology
  2. *Risk perception and communication
  3. *Conservation ethics
  4. *Decision-making



Rethinking corruption in conservation: insights from Madagascar
Corruption retards biodiversity conservation and livelihood preservation. In biodiversity hotspots facing extinction crises, such as Madagascar, mechanisms that effectively reform corruption and mitigate negative effects of corruption on conservation are needed. Local definitions of corrupt behavior, attitudes about reforms and motivations for noncompliance may generate deeper understanding about corruption, which in turn may advance the conservation community’s thinking in a way that invites new solutions. This research explores how rethinking corruption in conservation crime as a blend of criminological and political ecology dimensions liberalizes the suite of reform mechanisms available to conservationists. Key collaborators include Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy.

Risk perception, vulnerability, and compliance associated with human-wildlife conflict in Namibia
Information about stakeholders’ vulnerability, risk perception, and compliance behavior associated with human-wildlife conflict (HWC) can help characterize perceptions held by different stakeholders impacted by HWC, enhance knowledge about social consequences of HWC, and build capacity of decision-makers to improve socially responsible and effective HWC interventions designed to foster co-conservation of biodiversity and livelihoods. Study objectives include: 1) characterizing threats to and from people and wildlife that result from HWC; 2) Evaluating factors influencing risk perception associated with HWC; 3) Evaluate factors influencing vulnerability to HWC; 3) Defining key factors that may influence compliance with HWC management; and 4) Describing the relationship between vulnerability and risk perception associated with HWC. Key collaborators include Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC).



Wildlife disease-related risk perception and communication
Zoonotic diseases pose risks to ecosystems, economies, and human health worldwide. Assuming different people judge risk management strategies the same can result in failed risk management. If perceptions of disease risk are to be effectively attended to by risk managers through risk communication, context-specific knowledge of risk is critical for affecting people’s attitudes and behavior. This research project explores demographics and zoonotic disease-related risk perceptions, testing the efficacy of a persuasive risk communication campaign on risk perceptions, evaluating bovine tuberculosis risk communication materials in Michigan and Minnesota for severity, susceptibility and efficacy messages, and theory testing the cognitive hierarchy model based on risks from disease and management policies. Key collaborators include Drs. Shawn Riley and Heather Triezenberg.

Conservation implications of seeking internet-based risk information about shark diving
Human-shark interactions can impose fear and severe risks to sharks or people; reducing these risks and fear is a growing global conservation priority. Shark diving outfits that promote risk and fear as a means to experience pleasure or adventure can counteract this objective. This project explore how shark diving websites simultaneously promote fear about sharks and positive emotions about diving with them? Adapting principles from sensation seeking and risk information processing models, we use a linguistic analysis program to analyze the content of international shark diving websites and explore the severity and susceptibility of risks to/from diving with sharks, promoted levels of self-efficacy of reducing risks, recommended responses to risks to/from sharks, and the message sensation value. Insight about how risk information seeking and processing models apply to wildlife conservation can aid understanding about why people intentionally seek out risk information about human-wildlife conflict yet engage in risky wildlife interactions. Key collaborators include Drs. Maria Lapinski and Brandon Van Der Heide, Bret Muter, and Lindsay Neuberger. Read a news story about this project here.

Risk perception associated with human-black bear interactions
Attitudes toward bears are a function of, among other things, perceived associated risk. Risk perception may influence people’s beliefs, attitudes, and support for different black bear management goals and approaches. Understanding risk perception, therefore, is an important component of anticipating the effectiveness and impact of various human-related wildlife management and conservation strategies. This research was designed to explore, characterize, and confirm variables influencing risk perception associated with negative human-black bear interactions. Further, this research offers a characterization of the breadth and depth of the risk perception among key stakeholder groups.



Exploring the ethical basis for conservation policy: the case of the inbred wolves of Isle Royale, USA
Scholars at Michigan Tech, Michigan State, and elsewhere have determined that the wolves of Isle Royale possess bone deformities and there is no reasonable way for natural genetic mitigation to occur given a number of factors. Understanding people’s ethical arguments about wolves can provide insight into their attitudes and beliefs toward wolves as well as how they might support various wolf management activities. Critical analysis of the ethical arguments presented in an online discussion board about the bone deformity issue can help: a) characterize the nature and scope of discourse about the issue, including attributions of responsibility and management preferences; and b) identify public values relevant to this issue. Beyond these practical implications, analysis of arguments can offer theoretical insight into: a) people’s ability to hold multiple moral commitments at the same time for a complex issue such as wildlife management, especially when the argument relates to an individual animal versus the collective or population; and b) the types, reasons, or arguments that people use in their appeal to key moral theories. Key collaborators include Dr. Michael Nelson, Amy Smith, Drs. John and Leah Vucetich, and Dr. Rolf Peterson.



Improving decision-making in contentious Great Lakes fisheries management
Investigating the role of the print media and social networks in influencing risk perceptions related to double-crested cormorants and their management in the Great Lakes can inform contentious fisheries management. In the first phase of this research, we conducted a media content analysis to characterize the risk-related content of newspaper coverage about cormorants and also traced how that coverage has evolved over the last 30 years. The second phase of this research involves identifying and characterizing a social network of agency professionals and active stakeholders involved in cormorant management in northern Lake Huron. With a better understanding of how cormorant-related risks are both communicated and perceived, natural resource agencies can develop more effective means of stakeholder involvement, as well as improve communication, education and outreach involving cormorants and other wildlife. Funded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

How are leadership programs in natural resources cultivating tomorrow’s leaders?
An increasing number of leadership development programs are offered in diverse venues to cultivate skills and prepare individuals to effectively assume leadership positions in natural resources. Significant capital is devoted to designing and implementing these programs, yet little has been done to characterize their content, nature, or impact. This research evaluated six natural resource programs in North America and described how these programs nurture leadership. Commonalities and gaps among programs were identified. Better reflection on leadership development programs may enhance strategies to prepare individuals to be more effective leaders and assume leadership positions.

Evaluation of a black bear related outreach intervention
In many areas where people and black bears coexist, negative interactions are increasing in frequency and magnitude. Reducing the risks associated with human-black bear conflict is an important goal for diverse stakeholders. This research evaluated attitude and behavior change associated with an outreach intervention designed to change residential bear-related behavior and reduce conflict. Based on the Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasive communication, the New York NeighBEARhood Watch (NYNW) pilot program aimed to change 6 residential human behaviors (i.e., bird feeding, pet feeding, composting, garbage storage, grill storage, hobby farming) and reduce human-black bear conflict.

Black bear issue education
Many states are witnessing growth in their bear populations, expanding distribution of bears, and marked increases in problem interactions between people and bears. Black bear management has become more prominent in recent years and conflict over bear management actions has emerged in multiple states. Black bear management decisions are often controversial, not only because of scientific uncertainties, but also because of uncertainty and disagreement about the purposes of management. Effective stakeholder engagement activities are needed to manage the inherent conflict associated with administering a black bear management program. Through issue education, learning and dialogue may reduce conflict about management decisions, increase durability of decisions, and contribute to more effective and efficient black bear management.