Understanding Human-Wildlife Interactions In U.S. National Parks: The Role Of Emotion In Human Behaviors That Foster Habituation And Food Conditioning In Wildlife

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Wildlife managers seek to influence human-wildlife interactions to maximize positive impacts for both wildlife and people. In many situations, in particular in protected areas such as national parks, wildlife may learn that people pose little threat and may be the source of a food reward, resulting in habituation or food conditioning. Managers are concerned about health and safety risks to people and wildlife associated with these phenomena. Communication often is a preferred management approach to address these issues, but it frequently fails to yield the desired effects on human behaviors. This ineffectiveness is in part due to a lack of information about human decision-making and behavior related to human-wildlife interactions that lead to habituation and food conditioning. I explored habituation and food conditioning in national parks using an iterative, multi-method approach that examined wildlife manager and park visitor perspectives about human-wildlife interactions. This included: workshops with wildlife researchers and managers; literature reviews; a content analysis of management documents; a survey of National Park Service staff; and visitor interviews at Acadia National Park in Maine. The collective efforts enabled me to identify key insights about human-wildlife interactions: (a) emotion is a critical catalyst of human decision-making and behavior in human-wildlife interactions; (b) it is difficult for wildlife managers to distinguish between habituation and food conditioning in a way that optimizes management; (c) context specificity influences people's emotional and behavioral response to wildlife; (d) people rely on their prior experience when making decisions related to interactions with wildlife; (e) people enjoy wildlife and wish to avoid having negative impacts on wildlife, but often their behaviors do not correspond with management recommendations; and (f) communication is reported to be a preferred management strategy for addressing human-wildlife interactions, but frequently this approach is neither effective nor systematically evaluated. These insights suggest that the ability of managers to influence human behavior in these contexts may be improved through the application of decision-making models and communication messages that integrate emotional components. I also contend that utilizing a novel framework called "conservation recreation" in wildlife management may influence human-wildlife interactions in a way that positively impacts wildlife conservation.

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human-wildlife interaction; habituation; emotion


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Union Local


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Decker, Daniel Joseph

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McComas, Katherine Anne
Curtis, Paul D
Kretser, Heidi Elizabeth

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Natural Resources

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Ph. D., Natural Resources

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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