Working with Kansas Farmers and Non-Farmers to Benefit Habitat, Wildlife, Land, Aquatic Biodiversity

USGS Cooperative Research Unit Corner

Working with Kansas Farmers and Non-Farmers to Benefit Habitat, Wildlife, Land, Aquatic Biodiversity

The Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, USGS Ecosystems Mission Area, located at Kansas State University, is working with conservation decision-makers, farmers, non-farmers, and other stakeholders to understand their values and beliefs about environmental quality (water, land, wildlife, habitat, and aquatic biodiversity) in the Smoky Hill River watershed in central and western Kansas.

Coop staff conduct research on a Kansas farm

Research highlights:

  • Perceptions play a key role in conservation efforts
  • Perceptions vary between researchers, farmers, and the public
  • Values and beliefs shape conservation perceptions
  • Environmental worldviews shape the public’s environmental perceptions
  • Bridging the gap (perceptions) is needed to inform decisions

This research confirms that a gap between experts and farmers/non-farmers does exist, especially with respect to the state of the Ogallala Aquifer, playas, rivers and streams, lakes and reservoirs, native grasslands, wildlife habitats, farmland, native fish populations, and wildlife species.

These data suggest farmer and non-farmer perceptions about environmental quality may be influenced by individuals’ values (traditional, self-interest, openness-to-change) and environmental beliefs. Farmer and non-farmer environmental perceptions were less influenced by religious and political beliefs.

Agriculture contributes greatly to Kansas’ economy and is connected to societal culture and tradition. Understanding how Kansas stakeholders, especially farmers, value natural resources may help farmers and conservation decision-makers make informed agricultural (farming practices) decisions.

Connecting ecological data, stakeholders’ values/perceptions, policies, technical research, and management on sustainability in natural and social sciences is key to informing agricultural decisions in Kansas. This research is replicable across the U.S., and may help inform conservation policy, outreach, educational efforts, and improve conservation effectiveness. For example, the researchers found that improving environmental knowledge and shaping environmental worldviews/beliefs are two effective outreach and educational strategies.

Science plays a mixed role in guiding conservation and sustainability-oriented decision-making by individuals, policymakers, institutions, and governments. Not all science-based conservation and sustainability initiatives that address issues facing humanity and ecosystems and global problems have gained public support.

Understanding how different sectors of society view environmental conservation costs and benefits is needed to help develop a sustainability paradigm that balances ecological and economic interests of stakeholders.

Success of conservation decisions and policies is affected by non-scientist perceptions about the environment that may differ from the perceptions of scientists. That is, individuals implementing conservation efforts on-the-ground, such as landowners and farmers, may have different perceptions and views than scientists about conservation, which can impact how conservation efforts will be managed. If the public do not trust, use, or understand the science in which natural resource and environmental conservation related decisions are made, effectively implementing science-based conservation and policy efforts becomes difficult.

The ONB features articles from Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units, U.S. Geological Survey. The Units are leading exciting, new fish and wildlife research projects that we believe our readers will appreciate reading about.

This story was written by Jason Bergtold, and Martha Mather,, Assistant Unit Leader, Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.

Edited by Dawn Childs,, Information Specialist, Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units, USGS, and Casey Knapp,, Public Affairs Specialist, USGS Director’s Office

Photo Credit
Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
August 15, 2022