Research project evaluates what users of coastal wildlife management areas value

Project began in 2016 and included engagement with communities in the Saginaw Bay and Southeast Michigan regions.

Decorative. Partial cover of fact sheet 2

A multi-year community-engaged research effort evaluating what users of coastal wildlife management areas value identified a variety of opinions and suggestions for consideration. The study was a collaboration among Michigan State University Department of Fisheries & Wildlife, MSU Extension - Michigan Sea Grant within the Community, Food, and Environment Institute, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division. This Partnership for Ecosystem Research and Management project began in 2016 and took numerous adaptations (as a result of impacts of the global pandemic) and included engagement with communities in the Saginaw Bay and Southeast Michigan regions. Project overview_Page_1.jpg

The goal of this study was to evaluate the economic contributions, characteristics, and stewardship motivations of diverse users of coastal wildlife management areas while valuing key ecosystem services provided by these areas and assess needs and opportunities for collaboration related to wildlife conservation and coastal community development. This project was primarily the basis of doctoral research of Barbara Avers, MDNR Wildlife Division Waterfowl and Wetlands Specialist and MSU Adjunct Assistant Professor and MSU Fisheries & Wildlife faculty members Heather Triezenberg and Emily Pomeranz. This research explored  stewardship motivations and collaborative governance for Great Lakes coastal-based wildlife management areas for waterfowl hunting, bird watching, and community development. Visitor use surveys were conducted in 2018 at selected coastal wildlife management areas (WMAs). In 2019 and 2022, mail-back and internet surveys of coastal WMA stakeholders (i.e., waterfowl hunters, birdwatchers, anglers, and community members) were completed. An analysis of community plans was completed from six counties (Bay, Monroe, Saginaw, St. Clair, Tuscola, and Wayne) proximate to the selected coastal WMAs. Below are brief summaries and links to the fact sheets summarizing the research rationale and methods, as well as other related efforts.  

What do coastal WMA stakeholders want for management?

  • Birdwatchers and waterfowl hunters were more specialized, committed, and willing to devote personal time to conservation-related activities than anglers and community members.
  • While waterfowl hunters and birdwatchers differed in some responses, the two groups had some similar responses, indicating there may be much room for agreement.
  • Take a complementary use approach to exploring mutual goals and common ground.
  • A “Friends” group approach may be a way to start building social relationships and group norms among WMA users.
  • All WMAs are different, so site-specific uniqueness, local communities, and leadership should all be considered when developing tailored goals and objectives.

Stakeholders’ ecosystem services preferences 

  • Stakeholders recognize benefits received from nature.
  • Much common ground on social and cultural ecosystem services, such as places for future generations to know and experience nature; places for abundant wildlife, fish, and plants; and places that provide public access to nature.
  • Respondents perceive WMAs were already providing the ecosystem services benefits they most desired. WMAs can be used for both consumptive and non-consumptive wildlife activities, and because different stakeholders value these opportunities differently, managers will need to understand this and develop tailored engagement opportunities.
  • Additional outreach, education, and engagement opportunities exist to help bridge the gap on some ecosystem services dimensions that are less apparent, and less well known (e.g., regulating services such as flood control, storage of greenhouse gasses).

What makes people care about wildlife management?

  • A first step at expanding the stakeholder base is to get people to visit WMAs using a variety of methods and invitations.
  • Viewing the outdoor recreation activity as a central part of one’s lifestyle is an important component of predicting conservation behaviors.
  • If the goal is to increase frequency of conservation behaviors, communication messages should include waterfowl hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, and conservationist identities.
  • Consider developing partnerships with local organizations to invite people to join or engage with current organizations.
  • Consider establishing or fostering a “Friends” group for facilitating relationships and stewardship activities.

Who is likely to fund wildlife management in the future and what might that look like?  

  • Getting people to start experiencing WMAs is an important step in building support for wildlife conservation, including possibly paying a WMA access permit fee.
  • Appealing to identities of conservationist, birdwatcher, or waterfowl hunter is likely to result in increased support for WMA funding.
  • Current conservation behaviors are strong predictors for future actions.
  • Marketing, communication, and outreach strategies should be tailored to the group of interest.
  • Sustained engagement with partners and stakeholders on all sides of the funding options will be important to forge new foundations in wildlife management funding.

Coastal wildlife management area visitor use, expenditures, and economic impact  

  • WMA visitors were mostly White, male, and college educated, with an average age between 45-50 years old.  Most WMA visitors were returning users that had visited in the past 12 months. Facebook was the social media platform used most by visitors.  
  • Primary recreational activities were similar across WMAs with fishing as the predominant activity in the spring and summer and waterfowl hunting in the fall.  
  • Time spent on the WMA differed by season with visitors spending the most time on WMAs in the fall.  
  • The estimated visitor expenditures of visitors ranged from approximately $19 to $40 per area.
  • The average trip expenditures were higher in the fall than the spring.  
  • The overall annual economic impact to communities from WMA visitors is estimated between $110,913 and $360,208.
  • WMAs are yielding benefits to the local communities. These benefits could be increased through strategic partnerships between wildlife agencies and local communities to increase visitation and recreational venues available to visitors of the WMAs and their communities.

Community planning and zoning can support wildlife conservation

  • Communities nearer to WMAs include them in their plans, but additional zoning work could be beneficial for conservation or community development.
  • Communities farther from WMAs include creating or maintaining wildlife habitat in their plans.
  • Plans developed more recently had more content related to wildlife, habitat, or recreation aspects.

Stakeholder engagement, collaboration, and evaluation

  • For Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division:
    • Consider facilitating a “Friends” group or other service group to access private, corporate, and community foundation resources for common interests.
    • Work with communities to brainstorm new ways that they could assist or collaborate with local stewardship or other activities.
  • For local communities:
    • Utilize community plans (master plans, zoning, recreation plans) for wetland protection.
    • Develop, implement, and promote local education programs for the unique aspects of coastal wetlands.
  • For both Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division and local communities:
    • Engage in joint project planning and funding acquisition.
    • Develop, implement, and promote local education programs on the unique aspects of coastal wetlands for a variety of ecosystem services

Additional documents available

Three public reports are also available online:

Other Related Efforts

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is developing a recreation and habitat management plan for seven state game and wildlife areas across southern Michigan that have managed waterfowl hunts. More information about the plan is available online.

A similar project conducted by MSU Department of Community Sustainabilty’s Bess Perry will look at non-traditional uses of inland state game areas. 

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 34 university-based programs.

We thank the participants in this research project. The results from this study would not exist without their willingness to share their perspectives. Funding for this research came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act Grant MI W-155-R via a grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division. This study was prepared under awards NA140AR4170070, NA180AR4170102, NA17OAR4320152, and NA22OAR4170084 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce through the Regents of the University of Michigan. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce, or the Regents of the University of Michigan. These data and related items of information have not been formally disseminated by NOAA and do not represent any agency determination, view or policy. 

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