Current Projects

Featured Content

Identifying ecological and social resilience in fire-prone landscapes

This project, recently funded by the Joint Fire Science Program, combines an interdisciplinary team of researchers to clarify theoretical definitions of social and ecological resilience in fire-prone landscapes, refine this definition based on feedback from residents and communities in the Northern Rockies, and identify key actions fire managers can take to promote fire adapted communities and landscapes.

Define ecological and social resilience of fire-prone landscapes. We will establish a theoretical definition of resilience inclusive of ecological and social dimensions by engaging an interdisciplinary group of experts to define (a) key elements of ecological and social resilience in fire-prone ecosystems, (b) indicators that can be used to quantify these elements, and (c) key linkages between ecological and social resilience. Participants will focus efforts on a publication that articulates the connections between ecological and social resilience in the context of wildfire.

Understand community perspectives of social-ecological resilience of fire-affected communities in the Northern Rockies and interior Pacific Northwest. We will use interviews with community leaders and a quantitative survey of residents in two fire-affected landscapes to: (1) understand the elements of social resilience most important to community members; (2) quantify a subset of resilience measures; and (3) gauge acceptability of management actions.

Identify management-relevant dimensions of social-ecological resilience. Through a second workshop, we will apply expert knowledge from land managers to outline meaningful management actions that promote social ecological resilience. The workshop will result in a publication outlining an overarching framework for identifying the space where ecological and social resilience can be supported through management.

Social Dimensions of River Restoration on the Upper Clark Fork River

Ecological restoration has become a dominant natural resource management activity worldwide. However, the social dimensions of river restoration are not well understood especially in the context of large-scale restoration projects embedded in complex social-ecological systems like the Clark Fork River. Over the past five years we have conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with key project leaders and surveyed Milltown residents to understand the success of the restoration project. We recently expanded our social science work by collaborating with Dr. Theresa Floyd (UM School of Business) on a social network analysis.  We focused our efforts on the Milltown Dam removal to understand how social networks influenced project and restoration goals.  PhD student Peter Metcalf played a critical role in connecting study participants and developing a comprehensive list of actors involved in the project.  We are currently analyzing the social network data and expect to have results in spring 18.  

Social Tolerance of Wolves in Montana

The Lab is partnering with the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks to understand social tolerance of wolves in Mont. Using a series of mail surveys to stakeholders across the state, we seek novel measures of tolerance which better inform management. Coupling these measures with past survey efforts will give us the first insights into how tolerance has changed over time since recolonization, reintroduction, and legal hunting was reinstated. Additionally, we seek to understand public perceptions of wolf management, and whether or not different stakeholders understand and approve or disapprove of current agency approaches.

Private lands conservation in Montana

The Natural Resource Collaborative Working Group, formed in 2013, is an interdisciplinary team of natural resource managers, social scientists, and conservation leaders. Natural resource stewardship and management decisions made by private landowners collectively impact the ecological and social health of our landscape and communities. Resource managers tasked with resolving a variety of natural resource issues continue to seek better connections with members of the public to encourage stewardship and improve land and livelihood. Many agencies and organizations employ a variety of outreach strategies to address challenges ranging from invasive species to wildlife-human conflicts and fire risk reduction in the wildland urban interface. Underlying each of these efforts are the values and attitudes which inform landowner decisions. This project seeks to better understand these human dimensions to improve outreach effectiveness and enhance natural resource stewardship. To inform these efforts, we conducted a large, statewide survey of MT landowners to understand their perspectives on a variety of resource management challenges including invasive species, wildfire prevention, and human-wildlife conflict.

Human dimensions of “Conservation Triage”

Contemporary environmental problems are defined by massive scales of impact and global threats to ecological and human communities. Addressing these challenges will require equally large conservation investments by governments, scientists, foundations, non-profit organizations, and others. To strategically guide these investments, recent efforts have sought to spatially prioritize landscapes based on ecological or conservation importance. While extremely useful, these biophysically-based assessments rarely acknowledge the social realities of these important places which might constrain or facilitate conservation efforts. Equally problematic has been conservation social scientists’ reluctance to “scale up” their science and achieve a more comprehensive approach to prioritization.

This project applies a micro-targeting analysis to a riparian buffer outreach program in the Pennsylvania portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. To do so, we assessed riparian buffer condition using a novel, high-resolution land cover dataset, coupled this analysis to spatially explicit ownership and consumer data, and predicted owner participation in a buffer restoration program using a micro-targeting logistic regression approach. This analysis produced a fine-scale ranking of over 300,000 parcels based on restoration need and likelihood of owner participation for a 35 county area of Pennsylvania covering over 21,000 square miles of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Results have allowed resource managers and extension professionals in Pennsylvania to focus their limited resources on restoration efforts in the right place, and with the right people. Expanded use of micro-targeting techniques have the potential to transform natural resource outreach programs across the nation.

Improving climate information for water use decisions

This project was recently funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to explore the efficacy of climate information for Montana farmers and ranchers to improve adaptation to drought and water variability. Climate tools will be developed from data compiled at the MT Climate Office and then organized in ways that are easy to understand. The study will follow an experimental design that uses newly developed climate tools to provide information for agricultural producers to help with complex decisions regarding climate and drought.  We will use a mixed-method design that pairs qualitative focus groups and interviews with quantitative survey data.  This study is in collaboration with Dr. Laurie Yung and Dr. Kelsey Jencso (MT Climate Office).

Evaluation of Bison Management in the GYE

The management of wild bison is one of the most pressing trans-boundary stewardship challenges in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). A critical component of bison management requires multiple institutions work together to successfully implement adaptive management principles. This project is focused on understanding the organizational culture and history of each managing partner (e.g. USFS, NPS, FWP, etc.) and the strategies they use to work together effectively.  Peter Metcalf, PhD student, is leading this effort and conducing in-depth qualitative interviews with key leader’s involved in the Interagency Bison Management Plan. He is also conducting a content analysis of relevant documents and policies associated with the IBMP.

Generational changes in wildlife value orientations

This project is an exciting project led by our undergraduate researcher, Julius Metcalf (un-funded). Wildlife value orientations have been used in the Human Dimensions literature to understand peoples’ fundamental beliefs about wildlife and how they should be used and/or managed (or not). Values guide each of our attitudes toward a range of wildlife management questions, such as trapping, disease control, and general support for hunting and fishing. Some research has sought to understand how values are shifting at societal levels, but no studies have looked at how values are changing within families. Julius hypothesizes that value orientations ought to be shifting toward more biocentric views, away from dominant or anthropocentric views, as society industrializes and moves into post-industrial stages. To test his hypothesis, we have conducted a paired survey effort to measure wildlife values within families – a completely novel study design. Results should show if value orientations are changing across generations and, if so, in what directions.

Research on Employment for Past and Current CFC Students

The Lab supports the college's efforts to help current students find and apply for jobs through the college's database-driven job search web site. We also conducted a 2014 survey of College of Forestry and Conservation alumni to determine employment levels and other data about former students.