Virginia Frediani (MEM’19) Presents Her Research at the MP Symposium

DURHAM, N.C.—Virginia Frediani (MEM’19) built on her internship experience with the World Wildlife Fund to further explore voluntary conservation programs for her Master’s Project (MP).

An MP combines the academic rigor of a thesis with the practical experience of an internship. Working singly or in groups, students apply skills and knowledge they’ve acquired in the classroom to tackle real-world environmental challenges for real clients through a well-formulated and defensible analysis. It is a culminating experience for all Master of Environmental Management (MEM) and Master of Forestry (MF) students at the Nicholas School of the Environment. 

Duke Environment recently corresponded with Frediani, who is pursuing her MEM in ecosystems science and conservation, to discuss the goals and key findings of her MP as well as how the findings could serve as a guideline for agencies wanting to work with private landowners to protect endangered species. 

What is the goal of your MP?

“The goal of my master’s project is to understand landowner and agency perceptions towards voluntary conservation programs in the Great Plains. 

“Voluntary conservation programs offer landowners financial incentives, technical assistance and regulatory assurances to protect endangered species on their property without fear of subjecting themselves to penalties under the Endangered Species Act. 

“I aimed to understand landowner and agency employee perceptions towards these programs through surveys to elaborate on what is working and what is not working with each program from both perspectives. Based on the survey responses, I provided recommendations to agencies on how to improve voluntary conservation programs for landowners to participate and agency employees to manage.”

What challenges did you encounter with your work?

“The greatest challenge I encountered with my work was finding enough landowners and agency employees to participate in my surveys. Fortunately, last summer I interned with the World Wildlife Fund researching voluntary conservation programs in the Great Plains and was able to build relationships with agency employees who managed these programs. Using their connections and insight I was able to connect with enough agency employees and landowners for my survey.”

Private Landownership in the Great Plains.

 What are the key findings of your MP?

“I found four key findings based on the results of my master’s project. 

“The first is that voluntary conservation programs are an essential tool to incorporate landowner participation in endangered species protection. 

“However, my second and third findings showed administrative issues with these programs are burdensome to landowner enrollment and agency management. They lead to a disconnect between landowners and agency employees because agency employees spend more time dealing with administrative work rather than communicating with landowners. 

“My final finding is that landowners still distrust government involvement on private property and are hesitant to work with federal agencies but are more comfortable dealing with state agencies.”

Does your MP address the efforts by the American Prairie Reserve to create a 3.5 million-acre reserve of private and public lands along the Missouri River? If so, how?

“The American Prairie Reserve’s goal to create a 3.5 million-acre reserve would be an incredible feat to protect natural spaces and wildlife along the Missouri River in the Great Plains. This is primarily achieved through land acquisition to allow for American Prairie Reserve to manage for conservation purposes. 

“Working with landowners to help them implement conservation practices, and providing the resources to do so, is not the Reserve’s primary mission. The American Prairie Reserve could create a program that provides landowners incentives to incorporate their land into the Reserve’s goal without purchasing the land. 

“However, even with the efforts of the Reserve and others, much of the American land base will stay in private hands and therefore the types of programs I studied will be critical to endangered species conservation.”

Are your findings a model or baseline that could be adopted by cities similar to Raleigh or Durham?

“The findings and recommendations provided by my master’s project could serve as a guideline to agencies wanting to work with private landowners to protect endangered species. States could adopt this guideline and offer all landowners, both large and small, incentives to implement conservation practices on their property that help wildlife and endangered species. 

“My findings are catered more towards endangered and threatened species on large tracts of working land, which are not usually found in cities, but could be tailored towards small landowners to provide a network of protected habitat in rural areas.”