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Institute for Social Science Research in Natural Resources


Founded in 1968 by Professor of Sociology, Wade Andrews, the Institute for Social Science Research in Natural Resources (ISSRNR) was, from the beginning, an interdisciplinary endeavor. In collaboration with the Department of Economics and the Department of Engineering, sociology faculty focused their attention on water resource issues before expanding this focus in the 1970s to include energy resource development. Since then, research interests have varied, based on interests of affiliated faculty: earthquake risks and preparedness in Utah during the mid/late 1980s, local response to hazardous waste storage and disposal, public land resource management, wildlife resource management, and the socio-demographic changes occurring in rural areas characterized by “natural amenity”-based development. More recently, faculty have investigated land management practices of absentee owners of private agricultural lands and water resource issues. Funding has come from a variety of federal and state agency grant sources (e.g. USDA, NSF, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, Utah Divisions of Water Resources & Water Quality, Public Land Policy Office) and non-profit foundations.

Institute Faculty

Dr. Courtney Flint, Director

Courtney Flint

Dr. Peggy Petrzelka


Dr. Jennifer Givens

Jennifer Givens

Dr. Mehmet Soyer

Mehmet Soyer

Dr. Jessica Schad


Jessica Schad


Opportunities and Current Projects

ISSRNR remains an important avenue for promoting interdisciplinary social science research on the environment and natural resource management. Housed in the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology, the lab provides both space and experience for graduate assistants working on faculty research projects, and it fosters relationships between sociologists and faculty in allied agricultural and natural resource science disciplines. Faculty affiliated with the ISSRNR have extensive experience using multiple research methods to explore human dimensions of natural resource problems, and much of their work focuses on resource management challenges in the Intermountain West.

Dr. Courtney Flint 

Social Ecology of Rivers

Team: Dr. Courtney Flint, PhD Student Leonard Henderson, undergraduate student Caitlyn Rogers

Dr. Flint’s Rivers Project explores the social ecology of rivers in the Intermountain West with particular focus on the role of river-related organizations in the relationship between human and natural dimensions of river systems. There are 476 HUC 8 watersheds in the Intermountain West and so far, over 425 organizations have been identified across 11 states. We are conducting structured interviews with representatives of these organizations. One key focus is on factors influencing success of these organizations as well as obstacles with an eye to synthesizing best practices for achieving river-related objectives.

Mural near river 

Wellbeing Across Utah Communities

Team: Dr. Courtney Flint, PhD Student Kristen Koci, Casey Trout and undergraduate students Rachel Sagers and Caitlyn Rogers

Dr. Flint’s Utah Wellbeing Project (2018-2023) gathers perceptions of wellbeing across Utah communities and compares them with community indicators to inform local municipal leaders and their planning processes. Surveys conducted in 2019 and 2020 have collected information from over 6,000 Utah residents across 25 cities.

Survey Takers


Utah Wellbeing Survey


USU Students conducting surveys



 Dr. Peggy Petrzelka

Non-Operating Landowners of Agricultural Land

Working with PhD Candidate Ennea Fairchild (expected graduation Spring 2019) and American Farmland Trust on three projects:

  1. We are currently surveying non-operating landowners in 10 states (Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Washington, California, Ohio, Arkansas, North Carolina, Texas, Kansas), collecting data that will complement TOTAL (Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land) survey data from the Census of Agriculture, with main foci on:  the landowner-renter relationship, attitudes and behavior toward conservation, factors considered when making conservation decisions on their agricultural land.
  2. Working in 2 watersheds in the Great Lakes (Portage river watershed in Ohio and Genessee watershed in NY), we are involved in a 3-year project funded by Great Lakes Protection Fund, focused on developing a piloting a set of tools, including creative lease arrangements and innovative communication and education strategies, that will increase conservation practices on rented land. We are currently working with women non-operating landowners in the watersheds, and farmers who rent land from non-operating landowners.
  3. Ennea is currently interviewing women professional staff of USDA Agencies (e.g. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Extension, and SWCD’s (Soil, Water and Conservation Districts) who have attended AFT sponsored learning circles (an educational approach where everyone is the expert) for the women landowners. Previous to this, she interviewed 130 women landowners who attended the learning circles. These interviews are the data for her dissertation work.

Community Dynamics in the Face of Fracking

Working with PhD student Claudia Wright, we are about to undertake work in Vernal, Utah, with a focus on the community impacts of hydraulic fracturing. In particular, how do (or do) communities express both opposition to and support of the extractive industry, how do differing opinions get expressed (or not expressed), and how do (or do) opposing views on the extractive industry impact sense of community among residents.


Dr. Jennifer Givens 

Media Coverage of Climate Change

Team: Dr. Jennifer Givens, Master’s student Tyler Spradlin, and other collaborators.

Utilizing funding provided by Utah Agricultural Experiment Station Project (UTA-01369), we collected media coverage of climate change in three mountain towns in the Intermountain West at two time points. We are currently analyzing these data, and they will be the basis of Tyler’s Master’s thesis. We are also collecting national newspaper media coverage of climate change and other environmental issues.

Also using funding from Dr. Givens’ Utah Agricultural Experiment Station Project (UTA-01369) we, along with Dr. Peter Howe and Dr. Layne Coppock from USU, conducted a survey of concern about climate change and other environmental issues, and behaviors to address these concerns, in Utah. We collected data in 2017 and conducted analysis on these data in 2017 and 2018. We presented our findings at the International Symposium on Society and Natural Resource Management in 2018 and are currently preparing a paper for publication.

Innovations at the Nexus of Food Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS)

Dr. Jennifer Givens, PhD student Michael Briscoe, and other collaborators.

With funding from NSF and USDA (NSF EAR #1639458 and USDA #2017-67004-26131) we, along with an interdisciplinary and multi-university team, are studying Innovations at the Nexus of Food Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS).  Our focus as social scientists is on incorporating sociological considerations and variables into the larger team analysis of food, energy, and water (FEW) resource resilience and sustainability. We draw attention to societal drivers and social and environmental outcomes of the current FEW nexus, highlight issues related to inequality, power, and social and environmental justice, and emphasize opportunities for social change linked to INFEWS. We have a forthcoming publication in Frontiers in Environmental Science.

fish ladder
Columbia River


Dr. Jessica Schad

Natural Resource Dependency and Suicide in Rural Utah

Team:  Dr. Jessica Schad, PhD student Kristen Koci

Dr. Schad’s Utah Agricultural Experiment Station Project (2020-2025) is examining how natural resource-related economic transitions impact community identity, mental health, and suicide trends in rural Utah.  This research is examining suicide trends as well as individual and community-level contributing factors to suicide deaths in rural natural resource dependent places in Utah using quantitative and qualitative research and a variety of secondary and primary data sources.  A team of graduate and undergraduate student researchers are contributing to various aspects of the project, thus training them to conduct rigorous applied sociological research that can make a difference in rural community quality of life and policymaking.  We are also developing partnerships with researchers, organizations, and government entities, including USU Extension agents, throughout Utah who are also trying to understand and address rural suicide.

COVID-19 and Views of Science in Utah

Team:  Dr. Jessica Schad and Dr. Jennifer Givens

With funding from the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies, Drs. Schad and Givens are conducting a study using online panel survey data of adult residents of the state of Utah to better understand perceptions and behaviors in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. This study will provide reliable information about how Utah residents’ politics, views of science, and rural residence are driving behavior and attitudes regarding COVID-19 as well as support for science-related policy recommendations.  This will include an examination of the relationship between views of climate change and COVID-19.



Dr. Mehmet Soyer

The Impacts of Oil/Gas Development in Ute Indian Tribe 

I and my students have been working on several projects focused on public opinions surrounding the impacts of Oil/Gas Development and land management issues. I and Dr. Jessica Schad have been working on a project conducting in-depth interviews and Qualtrics survey with the stakeholders (residents and community leaders) in Ute Tribe reservation to examine the public perceptions of the impacts of oil and gas development. This area in the Uintah and Duchesne counties of the Uintah Basin is the most significant oil and natural gas producing in the state of Utah. From the residents’ point of view, we have been exploring community/sense of place, current impacts on the community, and communication with city officials or industry. Also, my research team and I have been scrutinizing the community leaders’ opinion on a tour of events on oil & gas development in the reservation, and their concerns and problem-solving. While much research has been conducted in non-tribal communities on the impacts of fracking and energy development, little has been done in tribal communities despite high levels of oil and gas development.  

Jessica Schad, Kristen Koci,

Public Opinion on Air Quality & Public Health in Cache County

The research team conduct Qualtrics survey to understand Cache County residents' perception of local air quality and relation to health concerns. Also, the research team conduct a qualitative in-debt interview examining the parental perceptions of the effect air quality has on their asthmatic children in Cache County Utah. We will collect this data via in-depth interviews with these parents which will be transcribed and coded. Upon analyzing the data, we will also evaluate the parents` understanding of the impact of air quality and analyze culture attitudes toward pollution. We will use action research approach to find possible problems and seek potential solutions regarding the understanding of the relationship between poor patient-related outcomes of asthmatic children and air pollution as well as explore any associated sociological implications.

 Cows in a field