The effectiveness of urban conservation programs for engaging the public and enhancing wildlife habitat

Jimenez, Miguel F., author
Pejchar, Liba, advisor
Reed, Sarah, advisor
McHale, Melissa, committee member
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The ecological and social effects of urbanization pose significant threats to global biodiversity. Habitat loss and fragmentation associated with urban development often displace native, human-sensitive species and replace them with exotic and human-adapted species. Urban residents also have limited access to natural areas, which may limit public support for conservation. Given these challenges, effectively engaging the public in conservation initiatives is increasingly important. The Nature in the City (NIC) initiative was launched in 2014 by the City of Fort Collins to create: "a connected open space network accessible to the entire community that provides a variety of experiences and functional habitat for people, plants, and wildlife." Here, I evaluated the extent to which two NIC programs achieved their goals to monitor plant and animal communities, enhance habitat for native species, and engage the public in conservation. My first chapter focused on the NIC Biodiversity Project, a citizen science ecological monitoring program. This program recruits and trains volunteers to collect data on the distribution of birds and butterflies across Fort Collins. Specifically, I assessed the tradeoffs associated with collecting data with citizen scientists as compared to paid technicians in terms of 1) data quality, 2) cost efficiency, and 3) the effectiveness of public engagement. I found mixed results for data quality; the probability of detecting human-adapted species was similar for citizen scientists and technicians, but citizen scientists were less likely to detect human-sensitive species. Additionally, citizen scientists tended to over report the abundance of human-adapted birds as compared to technicians. Habitat use estimates for four out of five species were comparable between data collected by citizen scientists and technicians. Citizen scientists were more cost efficient, producing more surveys and detections per paid work-hour than paid technicians. Finally, the citizen science program increased volunteers' ability to identify local wildlife and intentions to participate in similar programs but did not affect nature relatedness and self-efficacy for environmental action. My second chapter focused on the City of Fort Collin's Certified Natural Areas (CNA) program, which encourages private landowners to engage in stewardship practices that provide habitat for native plants and animals. I assessed 1) whether the CNA program increased native vegetation cover and vegetation structural heterogeneity, 2) provided habitat for human-sensitive birds and butterflies, and 3) which site- or landscape-level factors influenced these outcomes. I compared 10 residential open spaces not enrolled in the CNA program, 10 enhanced residential open spaces enrolled in the CNA program and 12 public natural areas managed by the City of Fort Collins. Although I did not detect significant differences in the amount of native vegetation cover or structure across site types, enhanced residential open spaces and public natural areas had consistently less mowed vegetation cover than residential open spaces, which was associated with more detections of insectivorous and shrub-nesting bird species. I also detected more human-sensitive bird species in enhanced residential open spaces than residential open space and found that across all sites, native vegetation was positively related to butterfly richness. Together, these results demonstrate that although enhanced residential open spaces are not a substitute for public natural areas providing high-quality habitat for human-sensitive wildlife, even relatively simple stewardship practices, such as not mowing vegetation, can have a positive influence on bird and butterfly communities in urban neighborhoods.
2019 Fall.
Includes bibliographical references.
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