The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has announced that it is a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) 2017 Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems program award. WCS will receive about $500,000 in funding for its project, “Experimental Investigation of the Dynamic Human-Environmental Interactions Resulting from Protected Area Visitation.”
Work on the 4-year project will be managed by the WCS Adirondack Program office in Saranac Lake with research expected to begin in 2018.
The project is expected to test the common assumption that expanding access to protected lands will inspire a broader conservation ethic among park visitors. It’s hoped the study results will ultimately inform state and federal policies to increase participation in outdoor recreation and manage public access.
WCS is one of 9 recipients of grants made in 2017.
“A lack of public support for conservation presents a major challenge to reversing the biodiversity extinction crisis,” WCS Director of Applied Conservation Science (Americas) and principal investigator Sarah Reed said in a statement to the press. “Many people have suggested that decreasing visitation to protected lands is one reason for declining environmental concern. However, we need a better understanding of the consequences of expanding public access, including potential costs to species and ecosystems.”
The overall goal of the study is to test the assumption that visiting protected lands leads to pro-conservation behaviors. Researchers are expect to incorporate social surveys, bird counts, and geospatial modelling to document disturbances to bird communities from visitor activities at different intensities. In addition, they are planning to evaluate how different activities, including environmental education and citizen science, may enhance visitors’ knowledge about the environment and their connection to nature.
The WCS says that the study will be conducted over the course of four years in several locations throughout the Adirondack Park. The Adirondack Park is the largest protected area in the continental U.S., is located within a day’s drive of 100 million people, and receives an estimated 7-10 million visitors per year. New York State continues to add protected lands to Adirondack Park, many of which are highly desirable for recreational use and important to the local tourism economy. Yet, few studies have investigated how the increase in visitation affects the ecological integrity of the Park or quantified the benefits that result from encouraging public access.
According to WCS Adirondack Science Director, Dr. Michale Glennon, “In recent years the Adirondacks has had increased use and related management challenges on popular hiking trails. This research will help us identify ways to continue to offer world-class recreational opportunities while safeguarding our globally significant natural resources.”
Photo courtesy Nina Schoch, Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation.