Natural Resources, School of


First Advisor

Gwendwr R. Meredith

Date of this Version



A thesis presented to the faculty of the graduate college at the University of Nebraska in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Master of Science

Major: Natural Resource Sciences

Under the Supervision of Professor Gwendwr R. Meredith

Lincoln, Nebraska, December, 2023


Copyright 2023, Emily S. Rowen


Woody plant encroachment (WPE) is a social-ecological problem that will challenge conservation professionals and agricultural producers to adapt their management strategies. This research first examined WPE from the perspective of individual conservation professionals through an online survey. Conservation professionals’ attitudes about adaptation to vegetation transitions, such as WPE, were of interest because these attitudes are one measure of how prepared this group is to respond to WPE. Hypothesized predictors of adaptation attitude were tested through linear regression modeling. These predictors included ecological change, observation of WPE, or risk perception. It was found that risk perception was the strongest predictor of adaptation attitudes in this group. In addition, a mixed methods case study was conducted in a ranching community organization in the Loess Canyons region of Nebraska. The motivations and norms that influence how this group approaches WPE management were of particular interest as they have been important for the success of this community-based organization. Describing the strong collaborative culture of this group was important as well because it has been referenced in other research without extensive detail. The results of the research indicate that this community is motivated by stewardship, has norms of reciprocity, and involves many different groups in their management activities. Overall, this research highlights how these two groups perceive and respond to WPE in different ways.

Advisor: Gwendwr R. Meredith