Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Forestry and Environmental Conservation
Restoring wildlife populations in a human dominated world requires a deep understanding of the ecological conditions required for species persistence as well as the human social factors that influence restoration outcomes. Until recently, the majority of prior research has focused on understanding the ecological conditions and human social processes that contribution to wildlife restoration success separately, and often assign a higher value to ecological factors. I studied the human dimensions surrounding ongoing wildlife restoration efforts in the Northern Great Plains (NGP) of Montana to better understand how human social factors can affect and inform restoration efforts for a variety of wildlife species that have been repeatedly targeted for restoration across the NGP. In Chapter 1, I replicated a 1993 study to assess the long-term trends in attitudes and knowledge towards critically endangered black-footed ferrets and black-tailed prairie dogs among Montana resident representing five different stakeholder groups (local ranchers, statewide ranchers, rural residents, urban residents and members of conservation organizations) following nearly 30 years of recovery attempts. I found that stakeholder negative attitudes persisted over time despite outreach and incentive programs increasing knowledge of these species over time. Specifically, stakeholder closest to recovery sites (local ranchers and rural residents) maintained the most negative attitudes, were most knowledgeable, and had significantly lower temporal thresholds for achieving recovery goals (years). Next, in Chapter 2 I evaluated attitudes and behaviors towards a suite of species and ecological processes targeted for landscape-scale rewilding, as well as support for incentives for those species and processes. I found that there were differences in attitudes and behaviors towards species and processes as well as support for incentives among stakeholders. In particular, species perceived as threats to humans and livestock, as well as species that have the potential to limit land use practices due to associated regulatory constraints, were most negatively perceived, had a higher likelihood of negative behaviors, and had lower support for incentives. However, attitudes towards conserving migration as ecological processes were favorable among all stakeholders, suggesting the benefit of undertaking restoration of processes rather species in the future. In Chapter 3, I conducted a systematic literature search to evaluate the characteristics of variables used to describe anthropogenic impacts in connectivity and species distribution models for carnivores globally. I found that variables used to describe environmental conditions were four times more common than variables used to describe anthropogenic influences, which were more commonly used for larger bodied carnivores. However, the number of anthropogenic variables included were increasing at a rate of 3.35% a year and the spatial resolution of those variables has on average been decreasing by 53 meters per year. I also developed a recommended framework for integrating sociological data into predictive distribution and connectivity models throughout multiple steps in the modelling process based on my findings. Finally, in Chapter 4 I spatially predicted tolerance for swift fox, pronghorn, black-tailed prairie dogs, and mountain lions as a function of four landscape attributes and assessed the amount of spatial overlap between levels of tolerance and habitat suitability across three counties commonly targeted for restoration in the NGP of Montana. I found that tolerance was negatively affected by the amount of public land surrounding ranchlands and positively affected by the presence of conservation easements. I found that highly suitable habitats were in areas of medium-low tolerance for nearly all species, except swift fox which appear to have high restoration potential, suggesting the need for extensive outreach and incentive programs to achieve landscape-level restoration. My predictive maps of social tolerance and the spatial relationship with high suitability provides guidance towards priority areas for community engagement in areas with low social tolerance while simultaneously identifying potential pathways for connecting areas of high socio-ecological suitability. Collectively, my research highlights the value of using sociological information to inform approaches to multi-species restoration in working lands. Specifically, I show that variability in human social factors can limit multi-species restoration potential, but also provide guidance on developing mechanisms to increase social capacity to restore those species.
Titus, Keifer, "An Integrative Approach to Modelling Human-Wildlife Coexistence Landscapes in the Northern Great Plains" (2023). All Dissertations. 3284.