Does Wildlife Information Influence Public Acceptability of Development?

Project Title: 

Does Wildlife Information Influence Public Acceptability of Development?

Award Year: 
University of Vermont
Co-Principal Investigator(s): 
Therese Donovan
University of Vermont
Robert Manning
University of Vermont
John Austin
Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife
Conrad Reining
Wildlands Network, VT
Dirk Bryant
The Nature Conservancy, VT

Forest and agricultural land conversion to housing and development is rapidly increasing across the Northern Forest and will impact wildlife populations. The extent of future land conversion largely reflects the public’s acceptability for development in their communities. A visual preference survey (NSRC-funded in 2009) indicates that people are willing to accept 9% more development in towns throughout Vermont, which will result in an estimated loss of 17,000 square kilometers of forested land. Most wildlife species respond negatively to this kind of development. A key question is whether information about tradeoffs between development and wildlife populations would influence people’s acceptability of development.

NSRC researchers will use a similar visual preference survey to assess acceptability of development and how information on wildlife influences this acceptability. Respondents will be asked to rate a series of three-dimensional images depicting various scenarios of development. Responses will be used to generate a social norm curve of acceptability. A third of the surveys will include information on the “chance of seeing wildlife” (bear, bobcat, and fisher). Another third of the surveys will include information on actual wildlife population numbers. Remaining surveys will be the same as the original and serve as a control.

Findings will allow researchers to examine whether (and how) information on the effects of development and land use change on wildlife influences public acceptability of development. If acceptability varies when wildlife information is included, then the study will provide strong support for the notion that land use planning in the Northern Forest should embrace a multi-criteria decision-making approach to planning that includes wildlife.