Title page for ETD etd-02162007-110455

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Linehan, Kerry
URN etd-02162007-110455
Title Evaluation of Knowledge, Attitudes, and Opinions of Town and County Leaders, Residents, and the Environmental Community of Endangered Species and Aquatic Conservation in Tazewell County, Virginia
Degree Master of Science
Department Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
McMullin, Steve L. Committee Chair
Neves, Richard J. Committee Member
Parkhurst, James A. Committee Member
Schmerfeld, John Committee Member
  • freshwater mussels
  • human dimensions
  • interviews
  • Virginia
  • Tazewell County
  • survey
  • opinions
  • knowledge
  • endangered species
  • attitudes
Date of Defense 2007-01-26
Availability unrestricted
In 1998, a tanker truck overturned on U.S. Route 460 in Tazewell County, Virginia, releasing approximately 5110 L of Octocure 554-revised, a rubber accelerant, into an unnamed tributary approximately 162 m from its confluence with the Clinch River. The spill killed nearly all aquatic life in the river, including three species of federally endangered mussels, for 11 km downstream. The restoration plan developed after the spill included community outreach to complement the physical, on-site restoration effort. Although numerous studies have been made of the aquatic resources in the upper Clinch River, Tazewell County, Virginia, there had been no prior assessment of the local residents’ knowledge, attitudes, and opinions about the natural resources in this biodiversity hotspot. I surveyed residents of Tazewell County, Virginia to assess their baseline knowledge about the upper Clinch River watershed, endangered mussels, aquatic conservation, and water quality issues. The survey response rate was 42%. Survey respondents were aware that mussels are present in the Clinch River watershed, but were not aware of their imperiled status or the ecosystem services that mussels perform. On average, respondents expressed stronger moralistic, naturalistic, and ecologistic than negativistic and utilitarian attitude orientations toward endangered freshwater mussels. Respondents considered water quality important and expressed support for mussel restoration. However, respondents indicated that the presence of mussel populations might negatively impact economic development of the county.

Local community leaders and conservation educators, when interviewed to explore their opinions on conservation of aquatic resources, placed high value upon the Clinch River’s water quality. They also have sought information regarding water quality and the Clinch River from local organizations and agencies and/or have developed a relationship with them as a result of their long-term presence in the community. The majority of respondents believed that human impacts contribute to species decline, but human impacts may not be the primary contributor to such decline. Respondents indicated that governmental and nongovernmental conservation agencies and organizations can assist localities by providing additional funding opportunities, seminars, and training sessions.

Tazewell County conservation educators focus broadly on water resources of the county. Conservation educators wised that adults and teenagers displayed greater interest in conservation issues and that local governments were involved more actively in conservation. Overwhelmingly, educators believed that forming and fostering partnerships is the most effective way to inform audiences about conservation. Barriers to conservation education faced by educators include lack of funding, audience apathy, and/or audience negativity. Nearly all respondents indicated that balance between conservation and development currently exists or that achieving such a balance should be a goal of the local government.

Survey and interview results were used to develop specific outreach recommendations to generate community support for mussel restoration and aquatic conservation in Tazewell County. Recommendations for the Certus Spill Outreach Plan include: frame mussel outreach messages in a broader aquatic ecosystem context in order to emphasize the human connection to aquatic ecosystems, communicate positive messages about conservation with decision-makers, regularly communicate positive messages about conservation in the local press, and partner with the local school system and agencies that have established positive images in the towns and county.

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