During my Masters work studying black bears in southwestern New York (2010-2013), I worked with hundreds of landowners to set up research sites on their property. Developing relationships with my landowners, hearing their stories, answering their questions, and following up on sharing the results of our research with them, I learned how successful wildlife management and stewardship requires not just the science but also collaboration with the public and different stakeholders .
I have applied this in my PhD work by developing a citizen science project called iSeeMammals. iSeeMammals collects data on the presence and absence of bears across New York when members of the public submit information from hikes, trail cameras, and sightings of bear or bear signs. While the project collects data, it also serves more social objectives. Citizen science has been shown to increase scientific knowledge and awareness. Modern technology, especially the internet and social media, enables more demographics to be reached: not just the hunters, trappers and fishers (the people!) who traditionally have had a relationship with wildlife agencies, but also hikers, birdwatchers, and education groups. By being part of the data collection, volunteers (i.e., citizen scientists) are engaged in wildlife research that will affect the management of their local wildlife. I believe that the future of wildlife management will depend on part in the ability to engage with the public and non-traditional stakeholders.
Wildlife conservation and management should reflect its increasingly diverse constituents. Involving people with different perspectives and expertises in the process improves the scientific process and can help make the outcomes ecologically more successful and socially more acceptable. My commitment to this is born out through working to increase diversity in the current and future conservation workforce as well as through increasing the visibility of this diversity. There are many barriers to diversity joining the wildlife conservation field. Traditionally under-represented groups have survived socioeconomic and historical disadvantages, and continue to struggle in the field due to lack of equity and inclusion.
As a US citizen with Chinese ethnicity, I take every opportunity to speak to a wide range of groups and organizations about my research; the benefits are a two-way street: while the audience learns about black bear management and hopefully sees me as part of a new generation in wildlife management, I also benefit from hearing their new perspectives, accounts, and concerns that inform my research and help it be more effective and wide-reaching.