Human Dimensions III

Contributed Oral

Determinants Influencing Recruitment in the Houston Toad Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement
Jared Messick, Christopher Serenari, Kristy Daniel, Jenn Idemma, Elizabeth Bates, Paul Crump, Michelle Lute

The importance of private lands conservation (PLC) for endangered species continues to grow as habitat is increasingly lost or fragmented. In Texas, nearly 98% of all property is privately owned, rendering PLC critical for protecting endangered species. Despite case studies regarding factors leading to stewardship outcomes for endangered species, a knowledge gap exists regarding PLC for endangered species. To help address this gap, we conducted 30 semi-structured interviews with key informants who owned land in endangered Houston toad (Anaxyrus houstonensis) habitat. We thematically analyzed the interview data to uncover the key determinants that influence landowner participation in a programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement for the critically endangered toad. We situated the findings from our analysis within a novel environmental stewardship framework to illuminate the interconnectedness and variety of determinants that motivated or inhibited landowner participation in the program. This approach revealed that local changes in conservation norms and networks can build relationships between resource-deficient landowners and practitioners that increase awareness and trust, combating barriers to PLC. Enhanced conservation networks and cultural transformation facilitated by demographic changes and subsidiarity can allow stewardship obligations to supersede culturally embedded myths and attitudes of anti-government sentiment associated with rural areas.

Cultural Cognition and Ideological Framing Influence Communication About Zoonotic Disease in the Era of COVID-19
Justin Beall, William Casola, M. Nils Peterson, Lincoln Larson, Wylie Carr, Erin Seekamp, Kathyrn Stevenson, S. Brent Jackson

The efficacy of science communication can be influenced by the cultural values and cognitions of target audiences, yet message framing rarely accounts for these cognitive factors. To explore the effects of message framing tailored to specific audiences, we investigated relationships between one form of cultural cognition – political ideology – and perceptions about the zoonotic origins of the COVID-19 pandemic using a nationally-representative Qualtrics XM panel (n=1554) during August 2020. First, we examined differences in attitudes towards science (in general) and COVID-19 (specifically) based on political ideology. We found that, compared to conservatives and moderates, liberals trusted science more, were less skeptical of science, perceived greater risk from COVID-19, were more likely to believe in a wildlife origin of COVID-19, and were more likely to support restrictions on wildlife trade. Second, we examined the influence of cultural framing on the perceived validity of science related to COVID-19. Respondents were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: (1) a technocratic framing that highlighted feats of human ingenuity to overcome zoonoses; (2) a regulatory framing that highlighted regulations and expansions of protected areas for wildlife as a means to prevent zoonoses, and (3) a control article about traffic lights with no cultural framing. After reading the initial framing article, all three groups read the same fictional, yet factually accurate, ‘Nature Science study’ generated by the authors. An OLS regression model revealed a significant interaction between the technocratic framing and political ideology. Relative to the control group, the technocratic framing slightly increased perceived validity of the Nature Science study for conservatives, significantly lowered perceived validity for liberals, and had no impact on moderates. Findings of this study highlight the need to account for cultural cognitions when communicating about COVID-19 and other zoonotic diseases.

Collective Factors Promote Landowner Contributions to Human-Wildlife Coexistence
Holly Nesbitt, Alexander Metcalf, Elizabeth Metcalf, Alice Lubeck, Ada Smith, Crystal Beckman, Tina Cummins

Understanding how to coexist with wildlife is essential for the successful conservation of large carnivores. Globally, most large carnivore populations are declining. However, there are a few areas where populations are growing, with increased interactions (and conflicts) with humans. Securing attractants like garbage and livestock can help to reduce conflict with large carnivores. Although effective when implemented, securing attractants requires that people change their behavior, which is often difficult. Changes in human behavior can be influenced by factors intrinsic to an individual (e.g., perceptions, experience) or by factors related to collective social experiences (e.g., expectations and behaviors of peers, known as social norms). We examined how these factors influenced attractant securing behavior among landowners living in black (Ursus americanus) and grizzly bear (U. arctos) ranges in Montana, USA using data collected from a mail-back survey. We developed logistic regression models to test the relative effects of collective and individual factors on behaviors like using bear-resistant garbage cans and electric fences around livestock. Speaking to a wildlife professional was the most ubiquitous predictor of attractant securing behavior, with the largest effect size and the greatest significance. Other collective factors (e.g., social norms) were as important or more important than individual factors (e.g., beliefs, age, gender) for influencing attractant securing behavior. This research suggests that wildlife managers and outreach coordinators may be able promote attractant securing behavior by emphasizing collective factors, such as social norms, rather than simply communicating the risks of large carnivores. Furthermore, it’s clear that direct communication between agencies and landowners is influential, which may justify increased interpersonal outreach efforts. We demonstrate that collective factors may be important for encouraging carnivore-friendly behavior, like securing attractants on private lands, to improve wildlife-human coexistence.

Social Identities of U.S. College Students Reveal Potential Conflict and Common Ground for Wildlife Conservation
Richard von Furstenberg, Lincoln Larson, M. Nils Peterson

American’s wildlife value orientations (WVO) are shifting away from a dominionistic worldview (that puts humans above wildlife) toward a mutualistic worldview (that views humans and wildlife as equals). This shift is reflected in declining hunter numbers across the United States. As hunting’s longstanding role as a centerpiece of conservation erodes, negative perceptions of hunters and hunting are growing. Other groups, mostly NGOs driven by mutualistic values, have stepped in to fill the void created by the decline of hunting, leading to further politicization and polarization. Such divisions are exacerbated by identity groups (e.g. animal rights vs hunters) that perceive and experience one another as irreconcilably different. 

We explored the social identities among college students across 22 U.S. states (n = 14,999) from 2018-2020 to investigate their links to WVOs, conservation, and hunting. We first asked students the extent to which they self-identity as each of the following: animal rights advocate, conservationist, environmentalist, gun rights advocate, hunter, and wildlife advocate. Using cluster analysis, we grouped these responses into three unique identities (Impassive 34%, Consumptive 26%, and Protective 40%). We found a strong association between identity groups and demographic factors with the Protective and Impassive groups being the most diverse. Students with Consumptive identities tended toward dominionistic WVOs, and students in the Protective group were more mutualistic. Despite opposing WVOs, both Consumptive and Protective groups scored highest on a conservation caring scale. Moreover, there was broad approval of hunting for altruistic reasons (e.g., ecological benefits) among all three groups. Our results suggest that although unique social identities regarding wildlife and the environment exist and appear starkly different at first, there may be opportunities to bridge divides based on common ground (e.g., conservation caring, altruistic motivations) and work toward a more unified future for wildlife conservation.

Public Perceptions and Attitudes Towards Large Carnivores in Southeastern North America
Brianna Winkel, Clayton Nielsen, Liz Hillard, Ron Sutherland

Cougar (Puma concolor) and red wolf (Canis rufus) populations have been extirpated from much of their historical range in the southeastern United States and face similar issues of public acceptance. Efforts to continue protecting these large carnivore populations have been complicated due to encroachment onto private lands and continued human development in their current range. Public acceptance of large carnivore management efforts is pivotal for their success. However, targeted surveys assessing public perceptions and knowledge of cougars and red wolves in the Southeast are limited. We mailed 20,000 questionnaires and 2,000 follow-up postcards to residents in the southeastern United States in 2020 near areas of potential red wolf and cougar habitat. We used cumulative link models to gauge the associations between sociodemographic predictors with respondent’s knowledge and attitude towards large carnivores. Total response rate was 4.6% with the majority of respondents identifying as male (53.6%), having a 4-year degree or above (54.1%), and 57 ± 16 (SE) years of age. Respondents’ knowledge and attitudes towards large carnivores were largely positive (≥63% positive) with higher education, older age, and current livestock ownership being largest predictors for responses. Attitudes towards red wolves were largely driven by knowledge of red wolves while attitudes towards cougars were primarily driven by livestock ownership. Livestock owners (71.5%) were concerned about safety of livestock in large carnivore habitat, and most respondents (61%) did not trust their local agency to effectively manage large carnivore populations.  Our research provides a foundation for wildlife managers to develop informed plans, educational programs, and policy decisions for potentially recolonizing large carnivore populations.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Understanding Key Stakeholder Perspectives on Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Management
Hannah Shapiro, Elizabeth Pienaar, Gino D’Angelo, Michel Kohl, Mark Ruder

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) is a highly contagious and fatal disease that threatens wild and domestic lagomorph populations in 15 states and will likely spread rapidly across the United States if not contained. Continued spread of RHDV2 will adversely affect small game hunting, the commercial rabbit industry, and the pet industry, as well as resulting in trophic cascades. To better understand the risk of anthropogenic spread of RHDV2 in the U.S., we surveyed key stakeholder groups across the United States who interact with wild lagomorphs (i.e., hunters, falconers) and/or domestic rabbits (i.e., pet owners, breeders, rescue volunteers). These surveys (n>1,000) focused on understanding key stakeholder behaviors towards rabbits, knowledge of RHDV2, participation in voluntary biosecurity measures, and support for regulatory measures designed to prevent the spread of RHDV2. We found that rabbit breeders had the greatest knowledge of RHDV2, with hunters and falconers exhibiting mixed knowledge of the disease. Most stakeholders stated that they were likely to participate in voluntary disease prevention measures recommended by state and federal agencies, including reporting suspicious rabbit deaths to state agencies and disinfecting equipment after contact with rabbits. We found differences between key stakeholder groups in their support for potential regulatory actions. Hunters and falconers were either indifferent or supportive of more stringent regulatory measures to prevent disease transmission, whereas domestic rabbit owners opposed stricter regulations (i.e., requiring health certificates, trade bans). Our results provide insights on how agencies can better engage key stakeholder groups to develop collaborative solutions that protect wild and domestic lagomorph health.

Extent, Composition, and Drivers of Deer Hunting Refugia on Private Land
KEITH MUNRO, Brent Patterson, Bruce Pond, Len Hunt

White-tailed deer populations are maintained at sustainable levels through hunter harvest. To meet harvest quotas, a sufficient proportion of a population must be available to hunters. De facto refugia, lands that could legally be hunted but are not due to landowner decisions, could interfere with achieving harvest quotas by making deer inaccessible to hunters. We used a combination mail and online survey across southern and eastern Ontario, Canada to determine 1) the extent and landcover composition of de facto refugia, and 2) the factors that influence whether hunting occurs on a given land parcel. We distributed the survey to 3,500 residents with a minimum property size of 5 hectares using a random stratified sample design; our response rate was 20%. By area, de facto refugia properties comprised 33.5% of the land area of the surveyed properties whereas actively hunted properties made up 58.7%, with the remaining 7.8% consisting of properties where municipal by-laws prevented hunting. Hunted properties were significantly larger than refugium properties but did not differ in terms of landcover composition relevant to deer. Model selection revealed that decisions on hunting access were primarily influenced by landowner hunting participation but also influenced by property size, perceptions of local deer population status, and past experiences with deer damage. A simplified model including hunting participation and property size as predictor variables, correctly characterized 74% of the properties in a testing dataset as either hunted or refugium. Given changing land-use patterns, especially the growth of exurbia, high levels of de facto refugia will likely figure prominently in future deer management. Strategies to incorporate this into deer management planning are needed.

Understanding the Effects of 50-Years of Wyoming Vehicular Traffic on Sage-Grouse Populations
Richard Inman, Michael O’Donnell, Benjamin Robb, Adrian Monroe, Julie Heinrichs, Erin Buchholtz, Matthew Holloran, Cameron Aldridge

Road networks and their associated vehicular traffic may negatively impact populations of many terrestrial species due to noise, barriers to movement and direct mortality from collisions. Documented declines and extirpation of Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) at lek sites near major highways and other transportation infrastructure have been observed but not well studied. Further, recent decades have seen increased truck traffic associated with energy development such as oil and gas drilling, which can elevate stress hormones, change lekking behavior, and increase mortality. However, the cumulative and long-term impacts of vehicular traffic on sage-grouse populations are largely unknown. We address this knowledge gap by developing estimates of yearly traffic volume on Wyoming Department of Transportation’s network of paved roads using a novel machine learning method (XGBoost). We show how spatial patterns of vehicular traffic on these roads have changed through time and use these estimates to assess how traffic has impacted sage-grouse population trends within a multi-scale hierarchical modeling framework. We also highlight future efforts of estimating annual traffic volume on unpaved roads and demonstrate the utility of incorporating estimates of traffic volume when assessing cumulative impacts on sage-grouse populations.

Contributed Oral
Location: Virtual Date: November 4, 2021 Time: 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm