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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 thumbnail

Dr. Steven Daniels

Steve Daniels

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 

Water Reuse in Utah

Team: Dr. Courtney Flint, post-doc Hillary Fishler, PhD student Kristen Koci, Dr. L. Niel Allen and other collaborators.

Our team is exploring the reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation in the state of Utah. With funding from USDA, we are contributing to a broader study on health issues associated with water reuse in Cache Valley, Utah. We conducted surveys of households in Hyrum and Logan in May and June 2018 and will be reporting findings on secondary water use and related attitudes in the fall of 2018.

With funds from the Utah Division of Water Resources and Utah Division of Water Quality (and a number of USU Colleges), we will soon be conducting a statewide assessment of current and planned municipalities water reuse. By surveying and interviewing wastewater treatment managers, municipal leaders, and representatives from irrigation and water conservancy districts, we will also get a better picture of the factors influencing local decisions on water reuse. This project will result in a new State Water Reuse report not updated since 2005. 

PhD student Kristen Koci recently investigated children’s health and irrigation in Cache Valley by interviewing key informants representing civic society and university water resource experts. Her research will be published later in 2018 in the International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health.



Wellbeing Across Utah Communities

Team: Dr. Courtney Flint, PhD student Kristen Koci, and students Casey Trout and Jack Flint.

Dr. Flint’s Utah Agricultural Experiment Station Project (2018-2023) gathers perceptions of wellbeing across Utah communities and comparisons with community indicators. Research explores social inequalities in wellbeing within and across communities, the role of landscape features and rural-urban differences in wellbeing perceptions, and links between wellbeing information and local and state decision-making. Public intercept surveys and interviews are being used to collect data.





 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. Steven Daniels