Over the past several years, colleges and universities have amped up their environmental studies programs and have created a real focus on how growing populations and higher standards of living put increasing pressure on our environment. The study of how human beings affect nature, and what we can do to reverse the affects we’ve had, is more important than ever. One terrific example of this is The Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University. This program explores the scientific foundations of the interaction between individuals and government to improve the well-being of society. Their focus is on producing research and impactful learning experiences that allow us to understand and share knowledge on the factors that increase economic growth.
I was lucky enough to get in touch with Megan Hansen, the Research Director at the Center for Growth and Opportunity. Her research is focussed on government policy, conservation, and the effect humans can have on endangered species. When I asked Megan what drew her to this kind of work, she said she has two great passions; outdoor recreation and public policy. “Growing up in Utah I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time outside, hiking the local trails in the nearby Bear River Mountains. My love for the natural landscape led me to ask how we can best care for and manage that land through responsible public policy. Researching conservation and endangered species means that I get to study how government policies impact the natural environment”
Megan recently worked on a project that focused on ways landowners can be instrumental in the recovery of endangered species. This project goes hand in hand with what we try to accomplish here at LandCAN. Like LandCAN, Megan believes landowners who are provided with the right knowledge and tools can play a huge role in habitat conservation. According to the project summary, the current approach of the Endangerd Species Act often fails to effectively engage landowners in conservation. Under the current regulatory approach, private landowners who discover endangered species on their land face restrictions that limit their ability to manage their own property. Therefore it becomes tricky to engage landowners and encourage them to practice conservation.
Megan and her team concluded that successful conservation requires effective cooperation with landowners. We need them. They are key players in conservation success, and should be treated as such. Policies that enable cooperative conservation efforts through local, nonregulatory organizations that take advantage of incentive-based approaches are more likely to be successful at engaging private landowners, and therefore, are more likely to achieve positive conservation outcomes.
Megan and her team have found that most landowners WANT to learn more about conservation and believe it is important to the success of their land. However, research has shown that a majority of farmers, ranchers, and foresters fear regulation of their land and distrust the government. That’s why nonregulatory organizations are so important. Many landowners already work with groups like University-Based Cooperative Extension to identify ways to improve their land. Other programs, such as Candidate Conservation Agreements, provide landowners with payments to share the cost of habitat improvements on their property. Landowners trust these kinds of associations, and they help landowners find the resources they need to better care for the wildlife they share their land with.
Megan also discussed what else her team is working on. “At the Center for Growth and Opportunity, we’re also busy conducting research on a variety of policy-relevant areas including innovation and entrepreneurship, technology policy, and the economics of immigration. You can learn more about the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University here.”