Completed Projects

Featured Content

River Recreation Monitoring (Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers)

The Blackfoot River and the West Fork of the Bitterroot River are popular outdoor recreation destinations for Montana residents and non-residents alike.  The Blackfoot River has seen a steady increase in use over the past two decades and in 2002, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) in cooperation with partnering organizations and groups identified a need to understand river users and use levels.  Out of this need developed a study which took place during the summer months and provided FWP with baseline data for numbers of visitors on the river (McCool & Moisey, 2002).  Managers have also identified a need to understand visitation on the West Fork of the Bitterroot River.  To date, no research has been collected on West Fork users. In recent years, FWP river managers have implemented a self-registration method for collecting recreation information from boaters and anglers on both the Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers.  This ‘self-registration’ method allows for a quick and easy method of gathering data about users.  However, little is known about the validity of this method on the Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers.  This study combine visitor-intercept surveys with analysis of self-registration data to identify dimensions of the recreational experience adequately measured by ‘self-registrations’ and those dimensions where self-registration data are significantly different then the survey data. Methods from this study have now been adopted by FWP in the West Fork of the Bitterroot River.

Elk Management in Montana Outside Yellowstone National Park

Wildlife management agencies often balance the effectiveness of management actions with their public acceptability. Agreement among different stakeholder groups for elk (Cervus Canadensis) management in Montana around Yellowstone National Park has not been fully understood. Elk in this area are infected with Brucellosis, a bacterial disease introduced to these elk and bison (Bison bison) populations in the 1930s via European livestock. Brucellosis is transmitted from elk to cattle through exposure to afterbirth material; the disease can cause cattle to abort their calves. Treatment of cattle populations has been largely successful, but eradication in wildlife populations has proven elusive. The area of highest concern for brucellosis in Mont. is known as the Designated Surveillance Area (DSA). MT Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) has considered several management actions within the DSA and in more targeted geographic locations (e.g., specific valleys within the DSA) including fencing to prevent comingling of cattle and elk, hazing elk off private property, kill permits issued to landowners, disease management hunts (e.g., public hunting outside normal seasons), and others. PhD student Peter Metcalf is using in-depth quantitative interviews to understand how hunters, landowners, and the general public accept management alternatives and agreement among different stakeholder groups.

Bison Management in Communities Surrounding Yellowstone National Park

The management of wild bison is one of the most pressing trans-boundary stewardship challenges in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). Because of this, University of Montana, in partnership with Yellowstone National Park, are gathering data to evaluate the attitudes and values that residents of GYE gateway communities have towards wild bison. The hope is to further our understanding of how residents want to engage with public land managers about bison management. For this study, in-depth, qualitative interviews are being used to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges of having wild bison on the landscape.  

Estimation of Private Forest Landowner Populations

The US is home to millions of acres of vast and valuable forestland. Approximately 860 million acres of forestland provide clean air, protect watersheds, and host myriad species of wildlife, plants, fungi, and increasing human populations. These forests are the backdrop for our communities, our playgrounds for outdoor activities, and a refuge where people find spiritual renewal, refreshment, and solitude. These important resources are managed by a range of owners, both private and public. The majority of US forests is privately owned (56%), but provides many public benefits. Precise and accurate estimates of private forest landowner populations and characteristics are critical tools for stakeholders concerned about the health and sustainability of private forests. These estimates (1) inform our understand of how owners are managing and parcelizing their forestland, (2) contribute to the development of outreach and assistance programming for PFLs, (3) help guide meaningful policy discussions, and (4) assist in directing the allocation of federal funds designed to encourage private forest stewardship. This work, conducted in partnership with the Penn State Center for Private Forests, helps ensure National Woodland Owner Survey (NWOS) results are unbiased; past NWOS can be properly interpreted; investments in longitudinal analyses are fostered; and the best possible methods are widely available for all to employ.

Understanding Visitor Experiences at the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages recreation resources for primitive and natural landscapes. This mandate allows for both developed and undeveloped recreation experiences given the character of the landscape remains visually natural and primitive. Management of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (MRBNM) is particularly complex due to the Missouri River’s designation as a Wild and Scenic River by Congress (PL 90-486, 1976). To assist with the management of the UMBRNM, the BLM updated its management plan in 2009. This plan offered guidelines for the BLM to manage natural resources including recreation resources on the Missouri River. Undergraduate honors student researcher Jessica Brown and M.S. student Fred Lauer are helping the Lab conduct key-informant interviews to examine how the 2009 management plan has changed visitor experiences, understand if and how perceptions of conflict have changed, and gather feedback regarding potential future management approaches.

Southwest Crown of the Continent CFLRP Socio-Economic Monitoring

The Southwestern Crown of the Continent spans 1.5 million acres from the southern end of the Bob Marshall Wilderness across the forests of the Blackfoot, Swan, and Clearwater valleys. In 2010, collaborative efforts in this area were recognized as one of 10 nationwide projects demonstrating the potential to unite stakeholders and communities in a shared vision of forest management and restoration. The Collaborative Forest Restoration Landscape Project (CFLRP) focuses on collaborative and adaptive management solutions to resource challenges. One of the key requirements of the CFLR program is to require a multi-party monitoring program “to assess the positive or negative ecological, social, and economic effects of projects.” The Southwestern Crown Socioeconomic Working Group has developed a set of monitoring projects to assess the social and economic effects of the work being done in the SW Crown under the CFLR program including: assessing the success of local contract capture, interviewing fire managers regarding fuels treatments, and modeling job creation. The next step in this work is to develop and implement a landscape-wide social survey to gauge local residents’ and communities’ responses to forest management and decision-making processes in the SW Crown under the CFLR program. M.S. student Fred Lauer is working with SWCC partners to quantitatively explore residents’ and stakeholders’ perceptions on the efficacy of the CFLRP toward achieving project goals, involvement and participation in decision-making processes, trust in the Forest Service and decision-making processes, general forest management values, and preferences for restoration treatments.

Human Dimensions of Private Land Ownership

While much research, critique, and debate focuses on management of public lands, the vast majority of natural resources are found on private lands. The majority of US watersheds, wildlife habitat, rangeland, and forests (among other resources) are controlled by private landowners who independently decide how to manage these resources; their collective decisions decide the fate of our landscapes and ecosystems. This work permeates much of our work, but has specifically focused on ownership objectives, management decisions regarding resource extraction and energy development, cross-boundary cooperation, and questions of family legacy and parcelization. Specific analysis has focused on factors influencing resource extraction decisions; segmentation based on future plans; parcel size effects on preservation; gender comparisons; and spatial variation in management decisions.

Block Management Survey

Montana is typically known for its abundance of public land, especially the forested areas in the western part of the state.  Contrary to this reputation, most of the state is privately owned (68%) including range, forests and agricultural landscapes.  In response to access concerns on these private lands, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has developed a cooperative private land access program called Block Management which allows free hunting access to private lands.  Block Management is not without its flaws and has been an area of discussion with policy makers, hunters and landowners alike.  Little is known about the success of Block Management from the perspective of landowners or hunters.  This study was conducted to understand issues influencing stakeholder perceptions of the Block Management across Montana. See project reports (link to publications page) for our findings.

Gender Comparisons among Oregon’s Big Game Hunters

Only a small percentage of hunters are female, however, this population is rapidly increasing.  This study of big game hunters in OR compared males and females constraints to hunting participation.  The study also examined negotiation strategies, self-efficacy, social support, and motivations for hunting.  Results indicate that females are not as constrained as previously thought, however, they face more constraints than males.  Females also indicated being motivated to hunt for family reasons like to spend time with family and to bring meat home to family.  Females also had lower self-efficacy in the activity than males, but perceived a higher degree of social support.  Results from this study can help manager develop recruitment and retention strategies for future female hunters. 

Conservation in the PA Highlands

The Highlands Conservation Act of 2004 (H. R. 1964) mandated a comprehensive review of five conservation values throughout Pennsylvania’s Highland region. Generally, experts conduct such work and routinely dismiss stakeholder input as unnecessary because the latter lack the level of understanding and knowledge held by those ‘‘who really understand the issues.’’ In this study, we compared the lands identified by experts to those identified by stakeholders in Pennsylvania’s Highlands and present the process used and correspondence between places identified by the experts and stakeholders. Findings indicate the stakeholders were very capable of identifying important conservation areas. Future efforts should recognize the capacity of stakeholders to contribute to such processes and efforts.

The Future of Penn’s Woods

Parcelization is increasingly recognized as a significant threat to Pennsylvania’s working forests and to the economic, social, and ecological values they provide to people, both owners and the general public. According to the Brookings Report (2003), the Commonwealth leads the nation in the parcelization of land as nearly 400 acres of forest and agriculture are lost to development on a daily basis. This is a particularly difficult issue to address given the relatively flat level of population growth the state has experienced since 1970 and the large-scale hollowing out of Pennsylvania’s core central cities and boroughs. To address the parcelization of our landscape, it is essential we develop a better understanding of the decision processes landowners undertake when they decide to dispose of their lands. There has been much speculation that this process is tied to the need to pay estate taxes, or to meet unforeseen financial exigencies (health care, education, major purchases, etc.). However, most of this work is based on anecdotal evidence and is speculative in nature. This project focused on characterizing the amount and location of land that has been parcelized and the reasons for such decisions among private forest landowners (PFLs) through qualitative, phenomenological interviews and a statewide, quantitative survey of PFLs who have and have not parcelized forestland.


The State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) “outlines Montana's five-year plan for outdoor recreation management, conservation and development. It provides the strategic framework to guide recreation facility managers in planning and prioritizing resources for staff and funding and includes a timeline for implementation” (MT FWP 2014). In cooperation with the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research (ITRR) and MT State Parks, this study used a statewide survey of recreation facility managers and MT residents to determine outdoor recreation needs of the state. In addition, this study analyzed data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to determine health and risk trends among MT residents as related to outdoor activities and recreation. See project reports (link to publications page) and the 2014 MT SCORP (link to: for study results.