Special Session at 77th N.A. Conference Will Address Human Dimensions in Relation to Wildlife Health Issues

The Human Dimensions Research Unit at Cornell University have been involved in developing a special session for the 77th North American Conference focused on the human dimensions of One Health for Fish and Wildlife Management (wildlife heath, risk perception, wildlife disease, etc.) See below for the official conference announcement. View the SFWA Flier.

Throughout the world, natural resource agencies are increasingly recognizing and contending with links between human and animal health. This realization has prompted numerous agencies and organizations to develop and adopt comprehensive wildlife/human health initiatives, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

The unfortunate reality facing management agencies is that emerging and persistent zoonotic pathogens (those that can be shared by animals and humans) directly and indirectly threaten the health of wildlife, domestic animals and humans while also posing serious economic, cultural, and natural resource impacts. Furthermore, these diseases and their management place heavy burdens on the financial and human resources of state and federal fish, wildlife and land management agencies. Although this is disconcerting in itself, of equal or greater concern to natural resource professionals is the additive effect of negative public perceptions associated with diseased wildlife populations.

A Special Session at the upcoming 77th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference will address the urgent need to promote public support for wildlife health via effective communication strategies. Titled, “Integrating Human Dimensions Knowledge and Wildlife Health Management,” this Special Session will be held on March 14, 2012, at the North American Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, and will spotlight the numerous challenges presented to state and federal agencies regarding public perceptions of wildlife-related health risks and stakeholder expectations for wildlife disease management.

The consequences of not effectively managing wildlife health and its biological/psychological influences on the general public will have far-reaching ramifications for the entire field of natural resource management. If wildlife is primarily viewed as a vector of disease, public support for conservation will likely diminish, as positive values associated with wildlife resources are outweighed by human health fears. At stake is public participation in wildlife-oriented recreation, the credibility of the wildlife profession and the status of wildlife as a valued resource.

Speaking at this Special Session will be experts from state and federal resource management agencies as well as researchers from leading universities who will highlight new research and insights pertinent to strengthening fish and wildlife health-related policies and aiding effective implementation. Specifically, presentations will address use of new analytical tools for assessing wildlife disease risks and developing optimal management solutions; stakeholder attitudes and risk perceptions toward wildlife health management; agency capacity to promote fish and wildlife health; and how the One Health paradigm is being applied to build stakeholder relationships and improve communication around fish and wildlife health.

This Special Session, chaired by Shawn Riley and Shauna Hanisch of Michigan State University, will conclude with an emphasis on how human dimensions inquiry can continue to inform our understanding of wildlife health management and the system within which it operates.

After years of ‘fracking,’ Pennsylvanians remain mixed about gas drilling

David Kay
Richard Stedman
By Stacey Shackford


Despite having an eight-year head start on Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction, Pennsylvania residents are just as uncertain about the effects of horizontal hydraulic drilling as New Yorkers, researchers at Cornell and Penn State have found.

And although they are generally more pessimistic about the potential positives of “hydrofracking,” New Yorkers are still more likely to support exploration of the Marcellus Shale than oppose it.

Richard Stedman, associate professor of natural resources at Cornell, presented the findings as one of three experts at a panel of the Agribusiness Economic Outlook Conference, held Dec. 13 at the Statler Hotel on campus.

“Uncertainty does not seem to go away over time, although Pennsylvania residents were more willing to accept it, given equal recognition of the impacts,” Stedman said.

He said an overwhelming majority of respondents to a survey of 6,000 households in the two states admitted to knowing nothing or very little about what to expect in terms of key economic and environmental effects of natural gas extraction.

Their trust of the key players involved in the gas drilling debate was also very low, although Pennsylvania residents were slightly more willing to trust gas companies than their New York counterparts, who considered scientists, cooperative extension specialists and environmental groups more trustworthy.

Nearly 40 percent of New Yorkers surveyed said they supported gas drilling, 30 percent said they were opposed to it, and 30 percent were neutral. In Pennsylvania, 47 percent indicated their support and almost 18 percent their opposition, with 34 percent neutral.

Tim Kelsey, professor of agricultural economics at Penn State, said uncertainty pervades everything having to do with gas drilling in his state, including scientific and economic analysis by experts, as there is not much reliable data.

“A lot of the discussion is based on anecdotes because this activity is relatively new,” he said. “We don’t yet have good secondary data on much of the impacts and implications.”.”

His own survey of 1,000 residents who lived within 1,000 feet of gas drilling wells in Pennsylvania’s Bradford and Tioga counties found that more than 52 percent reported a positive personal impact, 17 percent reported a negative impact, almost 4 percent said there were both positives and negatives, and almost 28 percent said they were unsure.

He said rural landowners, who hold the majority of the leases, tend to be more positive.

“You don’t see that level of perceived benefit among rank-and-file community members,” he added.

Kelsey said he’s found it difficult to gauge effects on municipalities and agriculture.

Emergency services have had to respond to increased call loads, and roads in rural areas with poor infrastructure have taken a beating, but residents report the gas companies have been very responsive in repairing damage.

“I have yet to talk to a municipality that has said its taxpayers are bearing the burden,” he said.

Most of the state’s farmland is located away from the Marcellus Shale. But farms located near wells have reported some challenges, including access to their fields, transportation, competition for labor and public perceptions, as some people question the quality or safety of food produced on drilling sites, Kelsey said.

David Kay, a senior extension associate in Cornell’s Department of Development Sociology, said uncertainty about the pace, scale and geography of drilling sites is one of the biggest challenges when reviewing the economic impacts of natural gas extraction.

“I would exercise caution in believing those hyping the economic benefit, but also those condemning it because of environmental impacts. It is all determined by how many wells are being drilled,” Kay said.

Stacey Shackford is a staff writer in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.