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Meet the New National Bird Conservation Social Science Coordinator

Ashley Gramza

With many bird populations declining, scientists are looking for new ways to help protect and conserve vital species.

Thanks to a partnership with the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, Virginia Tech is now home to a new, high-profile position that aims to build social science capacity within the bird conservation community through research, partnerships, and outreach.

According to Ashley Dayer, assistant professor of human dimensions in the College of Natural Resources and Environment’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, two national-level workshops of bird conservation community leaders in the past three years helped elevate the need for integrating social science (also referred to as “human dimensions”) into bird conservation.

“Social science is the study of people, including disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology,” said Dayer, who is also affiliated with Virginia Tech’s Global Change Center, housed in the Fralin Life Science Institute. “Those in the bird conservation community are interested in integrating social science into conservation efforts because they recognize that the solution to bird conservation challenges typically isn’t about changing bird behavior but about changing human behavior.”

Ashley Gramza has joined Virginia Tech to serve as the new national bird conservation social science coordinator. In this position, based in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, she will also co-chair the Human Dimensions Subcommittee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, a forum of government agencies, private organizations, and bird initiatives dedicated to promoting and advancing bird conservation.

This position came to fruition owing to the efforts of the initiative’s Human Dimensions Subcommittee, including committee chair Tammy VerCauteren, who is executive director of the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, and Dayer, who currently serves as co-chair.

Over the course of three years, VerCauteren and Dayer built consensus in the bird conservation community about the focus and structure of the position; gained endorsement from the initiative’s U.S. Committee, composed of agency and organization leaders; and secured funding support.

Gramza brings a unique blend of experience in wildlife biology and social science to the position, having worked on topics ranging from wildlife habitat conservation on private lands in Iowa to understanding the motivations for negative human-wildlife interactions at National Park Service sites.

She holds a bachelor’s in wildlife ecology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a master’s in human dimensions of natural resources from Colorado State University. She is currently finishing her doctorate in wildlife biology at Colorado State, where she studied the human and biological factors related to interactions between outdoor domestic cats and wildlife.

“Ashley Gramza’s applied experience collaborating with multiple conservation agencies, training conservation professionals, and working with private landowners provides the skill set we need for this job,” Dayer said. “She is well-suited for the position and will be a great asset to the bird conservation community.”

In her new role, Gramza will work alongside Dayer to conduct research and outreach aimed at integrating social science into bird conservation initiatives. The research aspect of the position will focus on studying various aspects of the human dimensions of bird conservation.

Their first project will examine why landowners choose to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Program, a voluntary initiative funded by the USDA Farm Service Agency that pays landowners to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production to improve ecosystem health.

“The Farm Service Agency wants to know why landowners get involved with the program and what they do on their property after they leave the program,” Dayer said.

Gramza also plans to work with the bird conservation community to learn how she can best assist them.

“I want to learn their social science needs, hear about what common human dimensions issues might be affecting bird conservation, and find out what tools they would find most helpful,” she said.

According to Gramza, almost all wildlife work has a human component. Understanding the way people think about and behave toward wildlife can help conservation professionals understand how to communicate about wildlife-related issues, increase public involvement in conservation, and promote pro-conservation behaviors.

To that end, she is looking forward to helping the bird conservation community develop outreach initiatives and research projects that help engage various stakeholders and understand how people affect, and are affected by, bird conservation.

“I’m excited to conduct research that will be used to conserve bird populations and increase the social science capacity within the bird conservation community,” Gramza said. “I’ve always wanted to do applied social science research that is both scientifically rigorous and is used by conservation practitioners.”

Gramza’s position is funded by the USDA Farm Service Agency, U.S. Forest Service State and Private Forestry, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and Virginia Tech.

The advisory team for the position is comprised of a diverse set of leaders in bird conservation, including Dayer and VerCauteren, as well as Todd Fearer of the Appalachian Mountain Joint Venture, Natalie Sexton of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Scott Anderson of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and Judith Scarl of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative.

Article by Virginia Tech University.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: February 09, 2017

AMJV Partners with USFS on Series of Forest Management Workshops

The Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to plan and implement a series of workshops across USFS Region 9 for land owners detailing management practices that can improve forest habitats for birds and other wildlife. The workshops will describe how specific forest management practices can benefit birds and other wildlife, and includes discussions of cost-share and easement programs that facilitate this type of management.

AMJV staff and partners, working with Allegheny National Forest staff, have a workshop scheduled for June 9-10, 2017, targeting forest landowners in northwest Pennsylvania and southwest New York. The AMJV is also working with staff from the Wayne National Forest to organize a planning team to develop the Ohio workshops. Given the number of forest management efforts on private lands in these states and the number of existing landowner outreach efforts, these AMJV/USFS workshops seek to augment and compliment such work as much as possible. 

Funding for the workshops originated from a U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service Joint Chief’s Landscape Restoration Partnership award given to the Monongahela National Forest. The first workshop in this series was held in October 2015 in West Virginia in conjunction with the Monongahela National Forest.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: February 01, 2017

A Focus on Focal Landscapes

At our Fall Management Board meeting, JV staff and resource managers from federal and state agencies held in-depth discussions on one of the major priorities of the AMJV partnership in 2017 – establishing a Focal Landscapes Initiative. The overarching objective of the AMJV Focal Landscapes Initiative is to work across public and private lands to enhance forest structure and species diversity in the long term while integrating forest restoration efforts with bird conservation objectives. The first step is for AMJV partners to identify focal areas that will serve as proofs of concept for setting manageable objectives, implementing strategies, tracking progress, and assessing effectiveness of both management actions and bird response. 

Coming out of our Fall Meeting, Board Members from state agencies and JV staff agreed to:
  • Initiate discussions with technical committee representatives and partners in their state to select a potential focal landscape.
  • Identify one or two partners as leads at the local level – to ensure integration and capitalize on existing initiatives and work being done by partners.
  • Present these potential landscapes to full Board for review at next Board Meeting (May 23-24 in Blacksburg, Virginia).
  • Aid with planning and coordination among local partners as needed.

For each focal landscape, AMJV partners will develop comprehensive strategies that set specific long-term conservation goals, which may include habitat management, protection and restoration, reduction of key threats, or influence practices on working and commercial lands. Such management and conservation activities – along with focused outreach strategies to target key stakeholders and audiences - will meet a suite of complimentary objectives, such as enhancing forest health, resilience, and wildlife. An overall measure of success will be healthy populations of priority bird species that represent the range of forest types and habitats present in the focal landscape.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: February 01, 2017

Barb McWhorter, State Forester with WV NRCS, receives AMJV Partner Award

AMJV Coordinator Todd Fearer presents the AMJV Outstanding Partner award to Barb McWhorter at the West Virginia NRCS State Technical Meeting.

Barb McWhorter, State Forester with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in West Virginia, has been awarded the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture Outstanding Partner Award for her instrumental role in the development and initial implementation of our Cerulean Warbler Appalachian Forestland Enhancement project. AMJV Coordinator Todd Fearer presented Barb with the award at the West Virginia NRCS State Technical Committee meeting in Morgantown on January 25th. The AMJV Management Board voted in 2016 to create this award to recognize partners who go above-and-beyond in their contributions to and support of our Joint Venture activities, but whose efforts are largely behind the scenes.

Barb is the first recipient of this award for her invaluable insight and advice with respect to NRCS procedures and conservation practices that informed multiple aspects of the project proposal. Along with her vital help on the proposal, she helped staff understand how the project needed to be designed for compatibility with NRCS’ operations. After the JV was awarded a Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project, she continued to be an asset by working not only with West Virginia NRCS staff, but also with partners to promote the project and ensure successful on the ground implementation. She graciously served as a mentor to Kyle Aldinger, our West Virginia RCPP Coordinator, helping him get established in the Morgantown NRCS office and making sure he was supported by staff and provided with the necessary tools and training to successfully execute his position.

There is no doubt Barb’s efforts have greatly increased the pace at which the Cerulean Warbler RCPP work is being delivered in West Virginia. The actual on the ground conservation impact has occurred more quickly, and will be of greater value for the species based on the time and effort Barb has invested. Throughout both the proposal development and project implementation, she has gone above and beyond to assist JV partners, and has always been gracious and professional at every step. Even when faced with challenges or potential roadblocks, she would invariably end a conversation by stating some variation of “We’ll find a way to get it done.” She accomplished all of this while occasionally serving as de facto biologist or resource conservationist during times of NRCS staff turnover. For all of this outstanding support, the AMJV is pleased to recognize her with this outstanding partner award.
Posted by Matt Cimitile: February 01, 2017

Cerulean Warbler Appalachian Enhancement Project Receives Growing Attention

Cerulean Warbler; photo by Bill Hubick.

The growing popularity of our partnership’s Cerulean Warbler Appalachian Enhancement Project is evident in the number of stories in national and state outlets that are being filed on its behalf. In West Virginia, the state’s Division of Natural Resources and WCHS news featured the project on its edition of West Virginia Wildlife. The television segment documents how landowners can help improve its shrinking habitat, with interviews from West Virginia Cerulean Warbler Partnership Coordinator Kyle Aldinger and John Cobb, a private landowner enrolled in the project.

At the national level, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service recently featured our project on its blog. Bringing Back Diversity in Eastern Forests for Landowners, Wildlife documents how our partnership is helping to sustainably manage for healthier forests in the Appalachians and help benefit declining songbirds such as the cerulean warbler. It also features quotes from AMJV Coordinator Todd Fearer on the importance of the Appalachians to ceruleans as well as the strength of Joint Ventures in bringing partners together across state lines to address conservation issues at a scale not feasible by any one agency.

Check out the articles online here:
WCHS News Segment - http://wchstv.com/community/west-virginia-wildlife/wv-wildlife-cerulean-warbler
USDA Blog Post - http://blogs.usda.gov/2016/12/29/bringing-back-diversity-in-eastern-forests-for-landowners-wildlife/
Posted by Matt Cimitile: February 01, 2017

Griffin Groups is Coming Back

Griffin Groups, the conservation-based project management site, will be back online the 1st week of February. Funding has been secured to resurrect the site for at least 6 months. If you are interested in providing additional support please visit: https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/griffin-groups-reboot
Posted by Matt Cimitile: January 30, 2017

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