PS 16-150
Woodlands in peril: Evaluating natural resource volunteerism as a weapon against invasive pests

Monday, August 5, 2013
Exhibit Hall B, Minneapolis Convention Center
Lesley A. Tylczak, Entomology, University of Minnesota, St Paul, MN
A)    Background/Question/Methods:

Invasive species are a well-publicized threat to the integrity of native ecosystems. Nevertheless, the available funding for invasive species monitoring has been in decline, especially in comparison to other government initiatives. Natural resource management volunteers are now being sought by agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources to balance this financial shortfall. However, the majority of information regarding the viability of volunteers remains observational and subject to speculation. Few studies have evaluated the cost-effectiveness of volunteer networks directly. In an effort to introduce a rigorous scientific foundation for suggested volunteerism approaches, a first-detectors network was established to monitor for invasive pests in the oak woodlands of central Minnesota. Half of the volunteers were solicited with invitations highlighting group identity (woodland owners), with the alternative half receiving invitations highlighting individuality to gauge effect. Potential volunteers were invited to place five pheromone traps in their woodlands to monitor for oak pests. Those who opted to volunteer were also completed surveys that applied to their views on volunteerism. Half of each treatment received a newsletter as feedback. Volunteers were evaluated on the basis of their recruitment rates, retention rates, and the reliability of their submissions.

B)    Results/Conclusions

Thousands of woodland owners were contacted with surveys in preparation for the 2012 summer season. Survey responses exposed a high level of awareness regarding invasive species (70-98% by species indicated) and a high level of interest in maintaining woodland health (over 90% of respondents). However, a predictably low number of individuals had both sufficient acreage to qualify for the project and wished to volunteer for the ten weeks of invasive species monitoring necessary. A follow-up survey sent to hundreds of survey respondents who did not volunteer indicated that their reluctance was due to lack of time, scheduling conflicts, and desire for more information, not lack of interest in the enterprise. The rates of volunteer recruitment between the two groups did not vary significantly. As the retention rate for volunteers was one-hundred percent throughout the season, it also did not vary between the two groups. All of the data submitted by the volunteers was deemed high quality and useable by the evaluators. The project is continuing into the 2013 summer season, for which a majority of the participants from the 2012 summer season are returning, suggesting significant levels of sustained interest.