Undergraduate Students Present Research at Pathways Conference

Brock, Vaske, and Ashbrook standing together
Brock, Vaske, and Ashbrook at Pathways to Success Conference, which is held every 2 years at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO

Juniors Alexa Ashbrook, BS Natural Resource Tourism and Lauren Brock, B.S. Human Dimensions of Natural Resources recently presented their research on the Human Dimensions of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) at Pathways to Success Conference in Estes Park, CO.  CWD is a fatal Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) disease found in deer, elk, and moose. CWD is currently found in 23 states, two Canadian provinces, South Korea, and Norway.

Ashbrook’s presentation entitled, Agency Trust and Perceived Risk towards CWD, addressed trust in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (INDR) management and dissemination of information and the perceived risks to both humans and deer herds in Illinois. Ashbrook discovered that hunters in counties without CWD had greater trust in IDNR, than hunters in counties with cases of CWD. This is of great interest as INDR does not vary their mission for management or communication strategy across Illinois counties.

Brock presented on CWD perceptions among archery, firearm, and muzzleloader hunters, and she discovered significant differences among hunter types for perceptions of trust in IDNR (both information and management) and perceived CWD risks (both humans and the deer population). Archery deer hunters, either alone or in combination with other types on hunting, reported less trust in IDNR and less risk from CWD than firearm or muzzleloader hunters. Muzzleloader hunters consistently reported the most trust in IDNR and most risk from CWD. Despite the fact that all hunters, in counties with verified CWD existence, are at equal risk.

Ashbrook and Brock both began work on these projects in Professor Jerry Vaske’s course: Human Dimensions Research and Analysis. Vaske’s course structure is predicated on the assumption that the best way to learn about research and analysis is to become directly involved in the process of scientific inquiry. Consequently, a considerable amount of time is devoted to conducting research tasks (e.g., developing surveys, analyzing survey data).

With these fundamentals skills in hand, Ashbrook and Brock were able to dive into a previously untouched data set that belonged to Vaske and Craig Miller of The University of Illinois and the Illinois Natural History Survey. Their final presentations in the course impressed Vaske so much that he invited them to present at Pathways and to pursue their first academic publications with him and Miller.


Vaske with Ashbrook and Brock following their presentations.
mountain landscape with cabins in foreground

Pathways is a conference and training program designed to address the myriad of issues that arise as people and wildlife struggle to coexist in a sustainable and healthy manner. Pathways’ mission is to increase professionalism and effectiveness in the human dimensions of fisheries and wildlife management field.  It is held every other year at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, and is often held during off-years across the globe in places such as Kenya, Namibia, and Germany.