Two University of Montana faculty members won a $1 million grant last week to help conservation groups improve water quality in the Atlantic Coast’s largest watershed.
Alex Metcalf, with the College of Forestry and Conservation, and Justin Angle, with the College of Business, will work with conservation groups to find ways to encourage farmers to use less pollutive practices in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“An organization that’s interested in conservation outreach is typically a nonprofit or government agency or somebody without a lot of money to spend," Angle said. "And so, we’re trying to help such organizations spend their scarce resources more efficiently.”
Farming is the biggest source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the watershed.
Angle says their past research in the area showed which types of people responded well to conservation messages. Now, they want to identify people in the broader population who might respond similarly.
They plan to use microtargeting, which uses public information about a person, to predict which farmers might be more open to hearing about improving their conservation behavior. Behavior like using “no-till” agriculture, where crops are grown without disturbing the soil, or better managing manure, which makes up almost half of the nutrient pollutants entering the Chesapeake Bay.
They’ll also look at the best way to frame messages to encourage certain behavior.
Angle says this research could also be used in Montana to improve farming practices and water quality.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to 18.1 million people and includes cities like Baltimore and Washington, D.C. It also provides habitat for more than 3,600 plant and animal species.
The grant was awarded through the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund. It’s a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and a grant program from the EPA.