Graduate Spotlight: Lincoln Larson
Hometown: Durham, NC
Degree objective: Doctoral Candidate, Forestry & Natural Resources
Expected Graduation Date: May 2012
Lincoln Larson has examined state park use and outdoor recreation across diverse populations in Georgia for the last four years in partnership with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Along with his major professor Dr. Gary Green and fellow doctoral candidate Jason Whiting, Larson is helping state park managers understand the people who visit state parks, their reasons for visiting the parks and the benefits people receive from park visits, such as physical activity and healthy child development.
In what has become one of the largest studies of state park use ever conducted in the United States, the team’s massive data collection efforts involve about 6,500 surveys and 18,000 observations to help address their research questions.
“In an era defined by increasing diversity in the population and diminished contact with the natural world, helping state park managers understand how to maximize the experience of visiting a park is crucial,” Larson says.
Larson’s research is already helping Georgia state park managers to conceptualize better the public’s preferences and adjust the park services, programs, and activities to meet specific needs of their diversifying clientele.
“If we can enhance our understanding of how people use parks and the multiple benefits that parks provide, then we will be better positioned to protect important resources and nurture new generations of environmental stewards,” he explains.
“I’ve always been interested in natural resource management, but it started with a passion for wildlife,” Larson explains.
“After finishing my undergrad degree in Biology at Duke, I worked as a field technician on research projects studying animals around the world including brown bears in Alaska, macaws in Peru and coyotes in Yellowstone. After spending months living off the beaten track and studying animals in remote areas, I began to realize that successful wildlife protection efforts – wherever they occur - begin and end with people. For example, the first day I got to Yellowstone in 2004, I saw four dead gray wolves (part of the experimental population that had recently been reintroduced to the national park) piled into the back of a pickup truck. They had been shot and killed by ranchers who claimed the wolves were encroaching on their land. No amount of field data on wolf biology and ecology could resolve this problem. This was an issue that required knowledge and understanding of human values, beliefs, and attitudes and the factors influencing them. After this epiphany, I shifted my career path to focus on the human dimensions of conservation. I’ve been exploring social science issues in natural resource management ever since.”
Larson hopes his research will help to shed light on nature conservation.
“The future of our global society depends on a more thorough understanding of complex interactions between people and the natural environment,” he says. “I think my field – human dimensions of conservation – will continue to grow as environmental issues, such as global climate change, biodiversity loss and nature-deficit disorder, continue to present new challenges.”
In addition to his dissertation research on state park use, Larson has worked on other diverse research projects in Georgia and around the world during his time as a graduate student at UGA.
Larson has collaborated with the State Botanical Garden and Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens to increase environmental education efforts and with Cumberland Island on the Georgia coast to help inform public opinion about invasive species in protected areas. Larson has also worked on sustainable tourism efforts in a World Heritage site case study of Machu Picchu, Peru.
After graduation, Larson plans to move to Ithaca, NY, where he will begin work as a postdoctoral research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He will continue his line of research focused on social science aspects of natural resource conservation.
Larson eventually plans to teach at a large university where he can teach the next generation about global conservation.
“Environmental education represents a critical piece of the puzzle. How do we help people understand the importance of our natural resources and act in an environmentally responsible manner? How do we teach today’s children to care enough about the planet to conserve it? How do we create meaningful nature-based education experiences and corresponding messages that resonate with diverse groups? These are important questions that I am working to find the answers to.”
“I plan to use this teaching platform to conduct research, educate students, and reach out to local communities, advancing global conservation efforts through interdisciplinary approaches at multiple scales.”