Current Projects

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Fish Consumption

Although toxic substances in the Great Lakes have been reduced in recent decades, enough of them remain to pose a risk to people who eat Great Lakes fish.  All Great Lakes states use fish consumption advisories as a way to inform the public about the risks and benefits of fish consumption. These advisories are designed to allow people to get health benefits from eating fish while lowering their exposure to contaminants.  However, these advisories are only partially successful in achieving these goals, with some people avoiding eating fish altogether and others eating too much contaminated fish. More research is needed to establish which advisory approaches and messages are most likely to get people to follow advisories.

Field testing advisory materials can play a critical role in risk communication. Through this project, we are conducting two large-scale experiments to determine the relative effectiveness of different types of advisories at encouraging healthy fish consumption patterns in at-risk groups. We recruited 2,000 women of childbearing age and 2,000 urban anglers in the Great Lakes region to participate in a two-year study of fish consumption. During the summer of 2014, we collected detailed information about the fish they ate. We worked with the Great Lakes Consortium for Fish Consumption Advisories to develop different versions of advisory materials that were suitable for these audiences. In the spring of 2015, we randomly assigned our study participants to receive different versions of the advisories (or none at all). In the summer of 2015, we again collected detailed information about fish consumption to determine whether and how fish consumption has changed. This study will allow us to determine how well advisory materials encourage healthy fish consumption patterns in women of childbearing age and urban anglers.

Investigators: Bruce Lauber, Nancy Connelly, Barb Knuth (HDRU) and Jeff Niederdeppe (Communications). 


Regional Impacts of Energy Development on the Social, Economic, and Ecological Well-Being of Rural Communities in the Northeast—An Evaluation of Gas Lease Terms.

This study, which is funded by Federal Formula monies, examines how lease agreements between landowners and energy companies shape the process and outcomes related to unconventional (shale) oil and gas development (UOGD). Leases are contractual agreements between landowners and oil and gas companies interested in exploiting the mineral rights associated with that property, i.e. oil and gas underneath the property surface. Leases include financial and environmental considerations; outline how disagreements will be resolved; and specify the rights and responsibilities of each party. They also determine the length of time that the lease will be in effect; determine when and where pipelines are constructed; and can include agreements about numerous topics of concern to the involved parties. They articulate how the ‘rubber meets the road’ regarding the actual practices and impacts of UOGD. Leases are an integral part of UOGD, yet their influence has been largely ignored by social scientists.

We are currently evaluating the leasing process in four counties: Tompkins and Broome counties in New York, and Bradford and Susquehanna counties in Pennsylvania. We have coded the contents of leases in Tompkins and Broome counties to examine the distribution and language of specific clauses. In Pennsylvania, we are using a large sample of leases to identifying landowners for a subsequent telephone survey. We will use the survey to evaluate how respondents negotiated lease terms; what information sources they relied upon when deciding whether or not to lease as well as what to include in their lease; and what effects the leasing process had on the well-being of their household. We plan to interview a subsample of survey participants to delve deeper into their experience with the leasing process. In collaboration with cooperative extension, we will use our findings to work with landowners in the future to promote a fair and equitable leasing process.

Investigators: Richard Stedman (HDRU Contact), Dylan Bugden, David Kay (CaRDI).


Revealing the potential of wildlife-dependent recreation to foster resilience in local communities

New York State contains 85 state wildlife management areas (WMAs) and 10 national wildlife refuges (NWRs) that have a goal of providing opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation (WDR) on more than 200,000 acres of public land. Some literature suggests that WDR can re-connect people to nature, enhance place attachment, increase environmental literacy, and increase social and economic vitality of local communities adjacent to WMAs and NWRs, but the degree to which these benefits are being gained is poorly documented. Social science research on WMA and NWR visitors, volunteers, and local communities is needed to understand the value of WMAs and NWRs to New York’s residents and communities.

This project will clarify relationships between participation in wildlife-dependent recreation and conservation attitudes, place attachment, pro-environmental behaviors, and local community, using data collected from recreationists and volunteers associated with one national wildlife refuge and one natural resource management area in New York State. This pilot project will lead to development of measurement scales that can be applied to assess outcomes of outdoor recreation in other contexts and locations. Using quantitative and qualitative data collection, our goal is to continue clarifying the processes and mechanisms by which wildlife-dependent and other forms of outdoor recreation may contribute to vibrancy and resilience of local communities. This work is supported by Federal Formula funds and is a contribution to a NIFA multi-state project ( NE1962; Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Other Green Environments: Understanding Human and Community Benefits and Mechanisms).

Investigators: Daniel Decker, Bill Siemer (HDRU contact), Catherine Doyle-Capitman

Collaborators: Natalie Sexton (US Fish and Wildlife Service), Michael Schiavone (NYS Department of Environmental Conservation), Lisa Chase (University of Vermont), Erin Seekamp (North Carolina State University)