Purdue University Graduate School
McWherter_Dissertation_072122_revised.pdf (3.11 MB)


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posted on 2022-07-24, 18:25 authored by Brooke L McWherterBrooke L McWherter


The role of trust and risk tolerance has received renewed attention in the field of environmental conservation and management as scholars are increasingly interested in integrating various social, economic, political, cultural, and psychological understandings, concepts, and theories into environmental conservation and natural resource management. This dissertation has two foci. The first focus is on examining the role of trust in the development and maintenance of collaborative environmental conservation programs and factors influencing trust (Chapters 2 and 3) and the second focus is on examining drivers of risk tolerance in the context of human-wildlife conflict (Chapter 4). Specifically, Chapter 2 focuses on the development and maintenance of NGO-municipal collaborations in an incentive-based environmental conservation program in Bolivia, where an NGO coordinated with four municipal governments in the initiation and implementation of the Watershared program. With a particular focus on the role of trust, I examined how municipal and NGO staff interact to negotiate, fund, and develop Watershared, their motivations to initiate such partnerships, factors that influence the maintenance of such partnerships, and how staff within these organizations envision their future collaborations. I collected and analyzed data from 15 semi-structured interviews with municipal decision makers and conservation practitioners in the implementing NGO and data from participant observation of several Watershared events and NGO meetings, utilizing an integrated Institutional Analysis Design (IAD) framework. My results suggest that trust and interpersonal relationships built upon shared values and goals and the program history in the region were important factors shaping NGO-municipal collaborations. At the same time, my results show that the NGO and municipal partners had different visions of the future of the program, particularly who would be responsible for program funding and implementation, and different organizational capacities that may influence their abilities to maintain their collaborations over time. Together, these results demonstrate the importance of understanding local dynamics in developing and maintaining NGO-municipal collaborations, particularly the role of adaptability and interpersonal relationships and the challenges related to goal misalignments over time. In Chapter 3, I investigated trust of Watershared participants and non-participants towards various organizations and the collaborating partners of Watershared, particularly the forms of trust present and the factors influencing their trust. By collecting and analyzing data from 1,030 household surveys of Watershared participants and non-participants in 72 communities in the Department of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, my results suggest that factors influencing trust in NGOs vs municipal governments differed even as the type of trust held in both entities was the same. Specifically, that community embeddedness and program participation significantly influenced trust in NGOs while perceived fairness and equality within communities and experience of political instability influence program participants’ trust in local municipalities. Overall, these results demonstrate the utility of a multi-level trust lens in developing informed understandings of trust across organizations while highlighting opportunities for natural resource professionals to enhance trust across organizations. Finally, Chapter 4 of my dissertation moved away from research in Bolivia to examine risk tolerance and trust in a different context due to my strong interest in human-wildlife conflict. Specifically, this chapter focuses on determining the factors that drive tolerance in livestock producer-black vulture conflicts in the midwestern United States. By collecting and analyzing data from 222 surveys of livestock producer in Indiana and Kentucky, I examined the economic, psychological, and social drivers of tolerance of black vultures. The results show that economic cost (e.g., livestock loss) was not a significant factor influencing risk tolerance; rather, wildlife value orientations such as utilitarian or mutualist beliefs, previous experience with black vultures, and intangible costs (i.e., emotions associated with wildlife) were significant drivers of tolerance. This chapter highlights the importance of incorporating non-economic factors in both understanding tolerance and developing policies and programs that reduce human-wildlife conflict. Overall, my dissertation examined trust, collaboration, and risk tolerance in two distinct contexts. Together, my results demonstrate the importance of integrating understandings of trust and risk tolerance with other economic, social, and psychological theories in developing a holistic approach to promoting collaborative natural resource management to address increasingly complex environmental conservation challenges.



Co-Production of Environmental Conservation and Social Equity: Is Conditionality in Payments for Ecosystem Services a Necessity or an Impediment?

Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences

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Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Forestry and Natural Resources

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Zhao Ma

Additional Committee Member 2

Jonathan Bauchet

Additional Committee Member 3

Tara Grillos

Additional Committee Member 4

Trenton Mize

Additional Committee Member 5

Ricardo Godoy

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