The needs of people and wildlife aren't always a good fit. Animals need habitat, and humans need space. It's a conflict of nature. In the end, something has to give. But for Elena Rubino, finding a solution is her challenge.
Rubino has been hired at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources to teach Conservation Social Science.
"We need to understand how to balance ecological and social objectives to achieve sustainable success," said Rubino.
"It's traditionally always been about managing the natural resource itself. In today's society, humans are dominating the landscape," Rubino said. "Conservation Social Science recognizes that we need to start managing people, not just the biological and ecological aspects involved in wildlife, forestry, and agriculture."
Rubino won't begin to teach classes until January 2022. At that time, she will instruct students on how human decision-making and behavioral changes can be studied to improve wildlife and habitat management and conservation.
She said she was excited to instruct students this fall, but the timing of her hiring didn't allow for student registration of her classes. This fall, she will continue her research on the public perceptions of chronic wasting disease in whitetail deer that she started at Texas State University.
STAKEHOLDER INVOLVEMENT KEY
"Conservation social science is more than mandating 'this is what we are going to do' regarding policies and management efforts," said Rubino. "We need to come up with better ways to communicate with people who impact and are impacted by management and conservation decisions."
"Good conservation means involving stakeholders early and asking important questions. What are your concerns and your needs? How can we potentially find a compromise?" said Rubino. "If we can't compromise, how can we make landowners and other stakeholders feel heard and part of the decision-making process?"
Initially, Rubino was interested in the environment and nature, but when she told her parents she wanted to be an environmental studies major in 2008, her parents said, "that's great, but you need another major in addition to just running around outside."
In high school, Rubino also liked and excelled in economics. Eventually, she combined her fascination with wildlife and decision-making into research on natural resource policy. Rubino said that taking an interdisciplinary approach of intertwining socio-economic behavior with natural resource studies has made for an interesting career choice. Studying ecology to enter a career in wildlife management would have been a more traditional route.
Rubino has studied all sorts of wildlife. She has researched bat ecology and rhinoceros conservation in South Africa, human-elephant conflict in Borneo, and communicating with the public about endangered Houston toads in Texas, to name a few.
While at UAM, she's hoping to become involved in migratory bird conservation in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley. She sees plenty of opportunities to engage private landowners in conservation efforts throughout the area.
People might not think of Monticello as a place for a "Jersey Girl" to land. But Rubino is well-traveled with her educational background.
Rubino has bounced around from high school in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, (a suburb of New York City), to the wilds of rural South Africa while doing her doctorate work at the University of Florida, to San Antonio, Texas. Her resume reads:
BS from Gettysburg College (environmental studies and economics major) in 2012;
Master's in Energy and Environmental Policy from the University of Delaware in 2014;
Doctorate from the University of Florida in 2018;
Worked in market research (2018) and then a nonprofit focusing on low-income energy assistance program evaluation (2019);
Completed postdoc at Texas State University at the Human Dimensions of Wildlife Lab (Jan 2020 to July 2021).
Rubino just relocated to Monticello.
"I'm thrilled to be here with my partner and our two dogs! So far, we've been fishing. We just got our licenses," said Rubino.
She also plays ultimate Frisbee and is looking for other folks who play.
Lon Tegels is director of communications at the UAM College of Forestry, Agriculture, and Natural Resources.