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Nils Peterson



BS, Texas A&M University (2000)
MS, Texas A&M University (2003)
PhD, Michigan State University (2007)

Research Interests

Unraveling the drivers of human behavior relevant to wildlife conservation: environmental literacy, household dynamics, conflict, hunting, democracy

Area(s) of Expertise

Intersections between Human and Natural Systems


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Date: 08/01/21 - 12/31/25
Amount: $1,481,715.00
Funding Agencies: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Urban/suburban areas continue to spread into rural areas, increasing the need to understand deer ecology and assess the cultural impacts of deer and deer hunting across the urban-rural continuum. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) is faced with an increased number of interactions between humans and deer in areas of high human and/or deer density, and these interactions often have negative outcomes (e.g., vehicle collisions). There is limited understanding across this continuum of public perceptions and desires of deer and deer hunting, along with little data on deer movements, density, recruitment, survival, and causes of mortality, or how hunting (the primary herd management tool) affects deer populations. Additionally, harvest and survey trends used to monitor herds across county or management zones are confounded by unknown hunter effort and success in these expanding urban/suburban areas. This project aims to increase understanding of spatial and temporal variation in white-tailed deer ecology across an urban-rural continuum in North Carolina and how harvest regulations affect white-tailed deer herds across these landscapes. Results will be available to help evaluate current NCWRC programs (Urban Archery Season, Community DMAP, depredation permits) and adjust or create new programs. Information can also be used to provide technical guidance to municipalities, landowners, and hunters. Results will be applicable to areas across the state and will have implications for other urban-rural areas across the state and country.

Date: 01/11/19 - 6/30/24
Amount: $842,186.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Interior (DOI)

With the proposed implementation of the BearWise program, which is designed to educate the public and reduce anthropogenic attractants in neighborhoods, our objectives are: 1) Use a before-after-control-impact (BACI) study design to examine the impacts of implementing BearWise principals (e.g., bear-resistant trash containers, elimination of attractants such as bird feeders, and others) in participating neighborhoods on urban black bear home range size, fine-scale resource selection, diet, and reproduction in treatment (i.e., BearWise) and control neighborhoods. 2) Quantify landscape and fine-scale variables associated with foraging events and assess resource selection (Lewis et al. 2015) at treatment and control neighborhoods. 3) Perform pre and post-stable isotope analysis to assess nutritional status and identify proportional contributions of anthropogenic and natural foods to the diet of urban black bears (Dykstra 2015) captured in in treatment and control neighborhoods. 4) Conduct an evaluation of a pilot BearWise community to quantify public perceptions about bears, bear management, bear-human encounters, and to explore compliance with BearWise practices prior to, in conjunction with, and post-implementation (Johnson 2013) in treatment and control neighborhoods.

Date: 08/01/21 - 8/01/23
Amount: $130,582.00
Funding Agencies: US Fish & Wildlife Service

We propose a project to measure support for chronic wasting disease (CWD) management among North Carolina (NC) deer hunters and determine how that support may change if/when CWD emerges in NC. This information is critical to ensure the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) can most effectively enact CWD prevention measures and carry out an effective response in the future if CWD emerges in the state. This project will address the following research objectives: 1. Measure CWD knowledge levels among deer hunters 2. Measure CWD risk perception among deer hunters 3. Determine intended behaviors related to CWD management among deer hunters 4. Measure willingness to pay for CWD management, and preferred mechanisms for payment, among deer hunters 5. Develop and test a synthesizing theoretical model for relationships among key drivers of deer hunters’ CWD relevant behaviors

Date: 12/31/21 - 12/31/22
Amount: $56,046.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Interior (DOI)

Achieving the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) goal of a 10% improvement in health, function, and connectivity in southeastern ecosystems by 2060 requires regional conservation efforts. Regional science based conservation partnerships are critical for AFWA goals (e.g., President’s task force report), national responses to SWAP revisions (Mawdsley et al., 2020), tackling the 30x30 initiative (Stein et al., 2021), and responding to climate change (Lackstrom et al., 2018). We propose addressing the primary gap in knowledge around viability of regional responses to wildlife conservation initiatives by surveying state agency leadership (at the division chief level) and field biologists from across the SEAFWA states. We will address several questions. First, we will measure which elements of wildlife conservation respondents are willing to engage in at a regional level and how much they are willing to push for a regional response to each element (Objective 1). The ten elements to be assessed include the eight required elements of the 2025 SWAPs as well as the 30x30 initiative and climate change adaptation. The SWAP elements, however, may be collapsed into a smaller set based on feedback from the project advisory board (e.g., planning for adaptive management and coordinating among stakeholders could be merged). Second, we will ask respondents what assistance is most valuable for developing regional responses (Objective 2). Third, we will ask participants to list perceived costs (e.g., interfering with long term data collection for indices) and benefits (e.g., leveraging resources across state borders) associated with regional planning for each element (Objective 3).

Date: 02/01/20 - 12/31/22
Amount: $119,998.00
Funding Agencies: NCSU Sea Grant Program

Developing solutions to large-scale, collective coastal challenges requires environmentally literate communities. In order to achieve this, we need to further conceptualize and design associated measurements of environmental literacy (EL) that focus on communities rather than individuals. The questions become not how individuals understand and interact with the world around them, but how communities share information, understandings, and associated action plans. To date, few, if any, have developed definitions or associated metrics to assess or benchmark progress toward community-level EL. Further, child-based environmental education (EE) is a promising, but understudied, strategy to build community-level EL. Children have been shown to foster EL among adults, particularly among those who may be most resistant to engaging with environmental topics. Given that school-based EE can reach a large proportion of adults in communities through their children and that children can effectively engage adults in environmental issues, school-based EE may be an effective strategy to build shared understandings, motivations and action strategies (i.e., community-level EL). Accordingly, this project will work toward two objectives. We will first conduct an online DELPHI study, a structured communication technique, to develop definitions and measurements of community-level EL. Next, we will train 30 middle and high school teachers in a citizen-science and school-based EE program around water quality that is specifically designed to build community-level EL through intergenerational learning. We will test how this curriculum boosts both individual and community-level EL among students, teachers, parents, and community members across the state of North Carolina.

Date: 09/01/19 - 9/30/22
Amount: $249,673.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Interior (DOI)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is committed to landscape-scale conservation to accomplish its mission. The Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS) is a state-led collaborative initiative focused on sustaining thriving fish and wildlife populations in the Southeastern US and Caribbean. The SECAS vision of a connected network of lands and waters that supports thriving fish and wildlife populations and improved quality of life for people is in direct alignment with the vision and mission of the FWS. Since its inception in 2011, the SECAS initiative has achieved notable accomplishments including the Southeast Conservation Blueprint (Blueprint), a living spatial plan that efficiently and effectively guides conservation implementation across 15 states in the Southeast U.S and two territories in the Caribbean. In advancing its conservation vision, the FWS seeks to continue participation in the state-led SECAS initiative. Through improving the applicability and expanding the use of the Southeast Blueprint, FWS will advance and facilitate on-the-ground conservation action that will reduce the need to list species, integrate State Wildlife Action Plan priorities, support Gulf coast restoration, and reduce regulatory burdens. To support these actions, the FWS Southeast Science Applications program seeks to expand its capacity and provide funding through a cooperative agreement with the Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit (CESU) at North Carolina State University. Through this project, the CESU will provide a dedicated staff person to achieve the following: 1. Provide user support for application of, and improvement to, the Southeast Conservation Blueprint; 2. Ensure key external partners’ needs are reflected in the Southeast Conservation Blueprint and incorporated into the Blueprint revision cycle; 3. Work with the FWS Southeast Science Applications program to develop and deliver tools supporting at-risk species conservation by partners; 4. Serve as a liaison among FWS Science Applications, the USGS Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units, the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA), and SECAS to identify science information gaps, promote research efficiencies and leverage available resources; 5. Identify research projects that advance the needs of state fish and wildlife agencies and end users of the Southeast Blueprint; and 6. Provide project management for the Southeast Science Applications program ensuring it meets milestones and objectives that advance the collective conservation visions of FWS and SECAS.

Date: 08/01/17 - 7/31/22
Amount: $4,500,000.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Interior (DOI)

The guiding strategy of the Southeast Climate Science Center (SE CSC) is to provide staffing and institutional support for core SE CSC mission areas. The SE CSC's mission involves supporting researchers and managers to co-produce science connected to management decisions (actionable science), coordinating logistics and communications to bring partners and the community together (within NCSU, with USGS researchers, and across the broader community) to discuss global change impacts to the DOI mission, and training the next generation (graduate students) and current managers on how to use and develop global change science.

Date: 01/01/17 - 6/01/22
Amount: $341,697.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Interior (DOI)

We will: 1. Assess Game Land use in NC by estimating user days for key groups including: a. White-tailed deer hunters b. Black bear hunters c. Turkey hunters d. Small game hunters e. Hikers/walkers f. Birders g. Other recreationists (e.g., boaters, bicyclists) 2. Determine the economic contribution of Game Lands to the counties where they are located and to North Carolina, by: a. Assessing the economic impact of recreational activity that can be attributed to Game Lands b. Assessing the economic impact of recreational activity attributed to specific amenities on Game Lands including shooting ranges and field trials areas 3. Determine the non-market value of Game Lands in NC for beneficiaries in the counties where they are located by estimating: a. Willingness to pay by users and by local residents (as reflected in property values) b. The fiscal impact of Game Lands on local governments, by examining trade-offs between the amount and value of taxable land

Date: 03/01/20 - 2/28/22
Amount: $29,990.00
Funding Agencies: US Dept. of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA)

The eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) is both a pollinator and a pest. Its habit of excavating nest tunnels in sound wood renders it a wood-destroying insect pest throughout its range in the eastern United States and southern Canada. Despite anecdotal evidence of widespread concern and pesticide use among homeowners and property managers, the prevalence and economic importance of this pest are poorly documented. There is no empirical information about current management practices or their efficacy. The problem addressed by this proposal is that there is insufficient information to develop and evaluate an IPM program for carpenter bees. During the seed project, we will conduct online and face-to-face surveys to assess prevalence of perceived carpenter bee damage and current practices, motivations, expenses, and preferred responses to carpenter bees among homeowners and property managers in the southern region. The online survey will cover multiple states in the southern region (at least NC, SC, FL, and AL). The face-to-face survey will cover four demographically representative neighborhoods in Raleigh, NC, allowing us to estimate bias in online survey responses. In the short term, results will increase knowledge of the baseline situation and inform future research directions in carpenter bee IPM. In the longer term, these results will ensure that new IPM strategies are adopted because they match user priorities, and will provide a baseline for future evaluation. We will also conduct a preliminary assessment of a novel mechanical insecticide derived from volcanic rock, currently being registered for mosquito control. We will assess adult and larval knockdown and mortality using standard procedures, including a WHO cone test and topical applications. Future work after the seed project would address formulation and field efficacy. If effective for carpenter bees, this mechanical insecticide would improve human and environmental safety over the active ingredients currently recommended for carpenter bee management. The proposal addresses the purpose of the RFA by promoting development of an IPM framework for carpenter bees, and by providing baseline information for future evaluation. It addresses documented stakeholder priorities in community IPM and least-toxic alternatives that reduce human and non-target insect exposure to toxic insecticides. In the long term, we envision an applied research and extension program that measures the pollination benefits of carpenter bees and weighs them against structural, aesthetic, or psychological costs; establishes economic thresholds for interventions; and provides evidence-based education and guidance for prevention and suppression of pestiferous populations. The long-term impact of such a program will be reduced use of toxic insecticides in community settings, including homes, schools, and other structures; and reduced expense and anxiety among homeowners and property managers when interacting with and making management decisions about this common species.

Date: 01/17/20 - 9/30/21
Amount: $46,625.00
Funding Agencies: US Fish & Wildlife Service

We propose to use Participatory Action Research approaches to cooperate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Refuge Southeast Region Inventory and Monitoring program in order to establish and assess the biological planning foundations for Strategic Habitat Conservation for the Refuge units of the Southeast Region, with an emphasis on developmental approaches and outcomes for Resources of Concern and Management Objectives, as established by NWRS Policy 620 FW1, under the authority of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act.

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