(Saranac Lake, September 15, 2017) - WCS announced today that it is a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) highly competitive 2017 Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) program award. WCS will receive USD 499,915 of funding for its project, “Experimental Investigation of the Dynamic Human-Environmental Interactions Resulting from Protected Area Visitation.”


Work on the 4-year project will be managed by the WCS Adirondack Program office in Saranac Lake with research expected to begin in 2018.


The project will test the common assumption that expanding access to protected lands will inspire a broader conservation ethic among park visitors. The study results will ultimately inform state and federal policies to increase participation in outdoor recreation and manage public access.


WCS is one of 9 recipients of grants made in 2017 by CNH.

“A lack of public support for conservation presents a major challenge to reversing the biodiversity extinction crisis,” said WCS Director of Applied Conservation Science (Americas) and principal investigator Sarah Reed. “Many people have suggested that decreasing visitation to protected lands is one reason for declining environmental concern. However, we need a better understanding of the consequences of expanding public access, including potential costs to species and ecosystems. We are grateful to NSF for providing this grant and recognizing the value of this study.”

The overall goal of the study is to test the assumption that visiting protected lands leads to pro-conservation behaviors. Researchers will incorporate social surveys, bird counts, and geospatial modelling to document disturbances to bird communities from visitor activities at different intensities. In addition, they will evaluate how different activities, including environmental education and citizen science, may enhance visitors’ knowledge about the environment and their connection to nature.

 The study will be conducted over the course of four years in several locations throughout the Adirondack Park in northern New York. The Adirondack Park is the largest protected area in the continental U.S., is located within a day’s drive of 100 million people, and receives an estimated 7-10 million visitors per year. New York State continues to add protected lands to Adirondack Park, many of which are highly desirable for recreational use and important to the local tourism economy. Yet, few studies have investigated how the increase in visitation affects the ecological integrity of the Park or quantified the benefits that result from encouraging public access.

Sarah Reed said, “The results will inform policies to expand public access to protected lands and increase participation in outdoor recreation. This will ultimately help land managers to shape people’s experiences in protected areas to advance biodiversity conservation.”


WCS Adirondack Science Director and CO-PI on the project, Dr. Michale Glennon noted,”In recent years the Adirondacks has had increased use and related management challenges on popular hiking trails. This research will help us identify ways to continue to offer world-class recreational opportunities while safeguarding our globally significant natural resources.”






About the Wildlife Conservation Society. WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.


About CNH Awards

Co-funded by NSF's Directorates for Biological Sciences, Geosciences, and Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences, CNH awards support research projects that include analyses of four different components:  (1) the dynamics of a natural system; (2) the dynamics of a human system; (3) the processes through which the natural system affects the human system; and (4) the processes through which the human system affects the natural system.