Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Wildlife and Fisheries Science

Major Professor

Adam S. Willcox

Committee Members

Robert E. Jones, Emma V. Willcox


The Endangered Species Act (ESA), established in 1973, was a landmark piece of environmental legislation and remains the standard for endangered species conservation. Implementation of the ESA has often been framed as pitting economic development against species conservation, inciting passions for and against endangered species conservation. The strength of opposing public opinions is highlighted by high-profile controversies such as those around the snail darter, northern spotted owl and the greater sage grouse. In an attempt to reduce conflict, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) increasingly seeks to utilize collaborative, stakeholder-based processes that address stakeholder interests, attitudes, and values.

In 1982, the ESA was amended to include a new tool, the Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP), to alleviate conflict between economic growth and the need to protect quality habitat for endangered species. This tool is intended to foster new stakeholder partnerships that allow creative, collaborative problem-solving. While research has investigated the biological scientific merits of HCPs, little attention has been given to important societal aspects, despite an emphasis on stakeholder involvement in HCP development.

I used a mixed methods approach to examine the attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions towards endangered species and habitat conservation planning held by USFWS employees, state fish and wildlife agency staff, participants involved with HCPs, and the general public in communities where HCP development is occurring, or has been completed. In-depth interviews and quantitative surveys are utilized to: 1) allow key stakeholders to describe the complex process of HCP development and, 2) test the assumptions and generalizability of themes raised by key stakeholders.

This research provides important insight into the role of attitudes and perceptions in conservation planning, and identifies variables that have contributed to success and failure of existing approaches to developing HCPs. Broader impacts from this research include enhancing HCPs to better account for stakeholder needs, fostering dialogue on ways to advance successful participatory conservation, and, ultimately, promoting more effective collaborative conservation strategies that achieve ecological, economic, and societal outcomes.

CumberlandSurveyBooklet.pdf (336 kB)
Attachment 1. “Public Perceptions of Endangered Species in Cumberland County." Survey booklet

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