Espenshade, J., J. D. Murdoch, T. M. Donovan, R. E. Manning, and C. A. Bettigole. 2018. Public acceptability of development in the Northern Forest of Vermont, USA – the influence of wildlife information, recreation involvement, and demographic characteristics. PLoS ONE 13(12):e0203515.
Increasing development such as roads and houses will alter future landscapes and result in biological, social, and economic trade-offs. Managing development requires information on the public’s acceptability of development and understanding which factors shape acceptability. In this study, we examined three questions: 1) What is the public’s acceptability of development? 2) Is acceptability of development influenced by wildlife information? and 3) Is the maximum amount of acceptable development influenced by views about wildlife, involvement in outdoor recreation, and demographic factors? We conducted a visual-preference survey of 9,000 households in Vermont, USA that asked about acceptable levels of development, acceptability of wildlife, involvement in recreation, and individual and town demographics. The survey response rate was 44%. Maximum acceptable condition (MAC) for development was 41 houses/km2 and not meaningfully influenced by broader consequences of development on seven common wildlife species. MAC was influenced by views on individual species, including bear and coyote, but not by other species such as deer, fox, and bobcat. Respondents with a positive attitude toward bear favored less development, whereas the opposite relationship existed for coyote. Similarly, MAC was negatively influenced by involvement in birding and hunting, but not by other common recreational activities. Among demographic factors, respondents that were younger and not born in Vermont were more accepting of development. Population density also positively influenced development acceptability. Results provide measures of the public’s acceptability of development that can help guide decision-making about development, wildlife, and recreation management.