Adena Rissman

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Russell Labs
1630 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706
Phone: 608-263-4356

Lab Website



Natural resource policy, conservation planning and evaluation, ecosystem management, society and natural resources


Institution Major Field Granted
B.A. University of Texas at Austin Environmental Studies, Liberal Arts 1999
Ph.D. University of California at Berkeley Environmental Science, Policy and Management 2008

Professional Experience

Institution Title Specialization Year
University of Wisconsin Madison Assistant Professor Resource policy, conservation 2009-present
University of California, Berkeley Postdoctoral Researcher Environmental Science and Policy 2008


Connections between people, institutions, and environments shape both ecological and social conditions. Our mixed-methods research investigates these relationships between society and environment, focusing on conservation, adaptive ecosystem management, and sustainable resource use. We examine forests, wildlife, rangelands, agriculture, and water resources both locally and nationally, through participatory research approaches. Our research centers around three themes:

1) natural resource policy design, implementation, and evaluation
2) ecological outcomes of resource policy and conservation strategies
3) social and legal adaptation to environmental change

Private land conservation strategies
farm fencePrivate lands are critical for biodiversity, natural resource production, water quality, and aesthetic values, yet they are increasingly threatened by development, parcelization, and unsustainable land uses. Our group examines a variety of approaches to land trust and government conservation of private lands, including acquisition of land and conservation easements, tax policy, and regulation. Themes of interest include property rights; the social relations of monitoring and enforcement; ecological outcomes; and policy-making for dynamic ecosystems.

Water sustainability and climate in an urbanizing agricultural region
The Water Sustainability and Climate project is an interdisciplinary effort to examine how ecosystem services related to freshwater can be sustained as climate, land cover and management, the built environment and human demands change. We are focused on the Yahara Watershed in southern Wisconsin. Our contributions to the project are investigating land and water resources governance and interventions; examine the adaptive responses of actors and institutions to changing environmental conditions; analyze efforts to improve nutrient management practices; develop a conceptual framework for linking social and ecological systems; and participate in scenario planning.

Conservation easements and environmental change
Climate change may significantly alter the species composition, ecological function, and economic utility of protected areas. These changes raise a variety of questions for the permanence and adaptability of conservation easements. A six-university research effort has examined conservation easement terms and land trust and government staff perspectives on adapting conservation easements to climate change. We are also engaged in outreach to land trust and government conservation practitioners, policy makers, funders, and academics.

Digital mapping of private land conservation
We are launching a survey of conservation organizations – land trusts and government agencies – to understand perspectives on digital maps of conservation easements. Many organizations have chosen to share digital information through platforms like the National Conservation Easement Database, while others have not. We are interested in learning more about all perspectives and experiences with digital mapping.

climate change impactsClimate change impacts and adaptations in Wisconsin forests
Climate change has the potential to impact forestry and outdoor recreation through changes to snow and frozen ground conditions. To address these concerns, we are investigating historical trends in weather, road conditions, and trail conditions, and conducting interviews with resource users and policy makers. We have also completed a study on past and projected future land cover change in Wisconsin and quantified impacts on core forest area, forest connectivity, and carbon sequestration and storage. Finally, we are examining organizational learning and adaptation in response to environmental changes such as invasive species and climate change.

Forest tax and land use policies on private land
Property taxes are an important policy driving private land use and conservation. Forest property tax incentives were developed in the early 1900s, but their ongoing contributions to landscape connectivity between public and private forests are not well understood. This project measured spatial patterns in a GIS, and analyzed tax program laws and policies. We focused on Wisconsin’s Managed Forest Law and Forest Crop Law, with 1.1 million ha enrolled. Although they are a voluntary, untargeted policy tool, forest tax programs provide the unintended but important benefit of connectivity with public lands. If stakeholders recognize forest tax programs as a means to achieve landscape planning goals, they could coordinate cross-boundary management efforts and target areas of particular conservation interest.

Linking science and policy: conservation performance and accountability
Conservation scientists, funders, and practitioners are calling for evidence-based conservation in which monitoring is used to assess and improve conservation program performance. We utilized network analysis, document analysis, and interviews to examine monitoring and reporting in diverse conservation policy networks. These case studies reveal gaps in the flow of monitoring data, especially for dispersed or devolved governance networks. We also found disconnects between sources of accountability pressure, scientists, and local program managers. This research suggests the need for greater development of standards and outcome measures and better integration of science with program implementation. More challengingly, it suggests complex political and administrative contexts for conservation program performance, characterized by conflicting goals and incongruence across spatial and temporal scales.


Courses Taught

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Church, Sarah P., Kristin M. Floress, Jessica D. Ulrich-Schad, Chloe B. Wardropper, Pranay Ranjan, Weston M. Eaton, Stephen Gasteyer, and Adena Rissman. 2021. How water quality improvement efforts influence urban–agricultural relationships. Agriculture and Human Values  1-18.

Rissman, Adena R., and Chloe B. Wardropper. 2021. Adapting Conservation Policy and Administration to Nonstationary Conditions. Society & Natural Resources 1-14.

Rissman, Adena R., Ellen Geisler, Tricia Gorby, and Mark G. Rickenbach. 2020. “Maxed Out on Efficiency”: Logger Perceptions of Financial Challenges Facing Timber Operations. Journal of Sustainable Forestry  1-19.

Selles, Owen A. and Rissman, Adena R. 2020. Content analysis of resilience in forest fire science and management. Land Use Policy, 94, p.104483.

Wardropper, C.B., Mase, A.S., Qiu, J., Kohl, P., Booth, E.G. and Rissman, A.R., 2020. Ecological worldview, agricultural or natural resource-based activities, and geography affect perceived importance of ecosystem services. Landscape and Urban Planning, 197, p.103768.

Anhalt-Depies, C., Stenglein, J. L., Zuckerberg, B., Townsend, P. A., & Rissman, A. R. (2019). Tradeoffs and tools for data quality, privacy, transparency, and trust in citizen science. Biological Conservation, 238, 108195.

Rissman, A. R., & Barrow, L. (2019). Characteristics of collaborative, interdisciplinary, and engaged research among graduate students in environmental conservation. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 9(3), 297–310.

Rissman, A. R., Morris, A. W., Kalinin, A., Kohl, P. A., Parker, D. P., & Selles, O. (2019). Private organizations, public data: Land trust choices about mapping conservation easements. Land Use Policy, 89, 104221.

Wardropper, C. B., & Rissman, A. R. (2019). Adaptations to extreme storm events by conservation organizations. Climatic Change, 152(1), 85–101.

Rissman, Adena R., Lori A. Barrow, Kevin D. Burke, Jennifer L. Chandler, Katelyn Geleynse, Heather Anuhea Canfield Kramer, Katherine M. Laushman, Andrew W. L’Roe, Volker C. Radeloff, Paul R. Schilke, A. Lisa Schomaker, Owen A. Selles, Rachel H. Toczydlowski, Chloe B. Wardropper. Novelty, persistence, and restoration: forest management for changing ecosystems. 2018. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 16:1-9. doi:10.1002/fee.1818

Wardropper, Chloe B., Sean Gillon, and Adena R. Rissman. 2018. Innovation in outcomes-based water quality policy: A case study from the Yahara Watershed, Wisconsin, USA. Case Studies in the Environment. doi:10.1525/cse.2018.001222

Owley, Jessica, Federico Cheever, Adena R. Rissman, M. Rebecca Shaw, Barton H. Thompson, Jr., and W. William Weeks. 2018. Climate change challenges for land conservation: rethinking conservation easements, strategies & tools. Denver University Law Review. 95:727-780

Rissman, Adena R., Patrice Kohl, and Chloe B. Wardropper. 2017. Public support for carrot, stick, and no-government water quality policies. Environmental Science and Policy. 76:82-89.

Wardropper, Chloe B., Sean Gillon, and Adena R. Rissman. 2017. Uncertain monitoring and modeling in a watershed nonpoint pollution program. Land Use Policy 67:690-701.

Rissman, Adena R., Jessica Owley, Andrew W. L’Roe, Amy W. Morris, and Chloe B. Wardropper. 2017. Public access to spatial data on private-land conservation. Ecology and Society. 22(2): 24 (link)

Rissman, Adena R. and Sean Gillon. 2017. Where are ecology and biodiversity in social-ecological systems research? A review of research methods and applied recommendations. Conservation Letters. 10(1): 86-93 (PDF)

L’Roe, Andrew and Adena R. Rissman. 2017. Predictors of working forest conservation and parcelization. Landscape and Urban Planning. 167:14-24.

Locke, Christina M., Van Butsic, and Adena R. Rissman. 2017. Zoning effects on housing change vary with income, based on a four-decade panel model after propensity score matching. Land Use Policy. 64: 353-362 (PDF)

Qiu, Jiangxiao, Chloe B. Wardropper, Adena R. Rissman, and Monica G. Turner. 2017. Spatial fit between water quality policies and hydrologic ecosystem services in an urbanizing agricultural landscape. Landscape Ecology. 32(1): 59-75 (PDF)

L’Roe, Andrew and Adena R. Rissman. 2017. Changes in Wisconsin’s large private forests, 1999-2015: land transactions, conservation, and recreational access. Society and Natural Resources. 30(1): 63-78 (PDF)

Mayerfeld, Diane M., Mark Rickenbach, Adena R. Rissman. 2016. Overcoming history: attitudes of resource professionals and farmers toward silvopasture in southwest Wisconsin. Agroforestry Systems. 90(5): 723-736 (PDF)

Wardropper, Chloe B., Sean Gillon, Amber S. Mase, Emily A. McKinney, Stephen R. Carpenter, Adena R. Rissman. 2016. Local perspectives and global archetypes in scenario storyline development. Ecology and Society. 21(2):12 (PDF)

Anhalt-Depies, Christine M., Tricia Gorby Knoot, Adena R. Rissman, Anthony K. Sharp, and Karl J. Martin. 2016. Understanding climate adaptation on public lands in the Upper Midwest: implications for monitoring and tracking progress. Environmental Management. 57(5): 987-997 (PDF)

Geisler, Ellen, Chadwick D. Rittenhouse, and Adena R. Rissman. 2016. Logger perceptions of seasonal environmental challenges facing timber operations in the Upper Midwest, USA. Society and Natural Resources. 29(5): 540-555 (PDF)

Owley, Jessica and Adena R. Rissman. 2016. Trends in private land conservation: increasing complexity, shifting conservation purposes and allowable private land uses. Land Use Policy. 51:76-84 (PDF)

Radeloff, V. C., J. W. Williams, B. L. Bateman, K. D. Burke, S. K. Carter, E. S. Childress, K. J. Cromwell, C. Gratton, A. O. Hasley, B. M. Kraemer, A. W. Latzka, E. Marin-Spiotta, C. D. Meine, S. E. Munoz, T. M. Neeson, A. M. Pidgeon, A. R. Rissman, R. J. Rivera, L. M. Szymanski, J. Usinowicz. 2015. The rise of novelty in ecosystems. Ecological Applications. 25:2051–2068 (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R. and Stephen R. Carpenter. 2015. Progress on nonpoint pollution: barriers and opportunities. Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Special issue: On Water. 144(3): 35-47 (PDF)

Carpenter, Stephen R., Eric Booth, Sean Gillon, Christopher J. Kucharik, Steven Loheide, Amber S. Mase, Melissa Motew, Jiangxiao Qiu, Adena R. Rissman, Jenny Seifert, Evren Soylu, Monica G. Turner, Chloe Wardropper. 2015. Changing Drivers and Plausible Futures of a Social Ecological System: Yahara Watershed, Wisconsin, USA. Ecology and Society20(2):10 (link)  (PDF)

Gillon, Sean G., Eric Booth, and Adena R. Rissman. 2015. Shifting drivers and static baselines in environmental governance: challenges for proving and improving water quality outcomes. Regional Environmental Change. 16(3):759-775. (PDF)

Wardropper, Chloe B., Chaoyi Chang, and Adena R. Rissman. 2015. Fragmented water quality governance: constraints to spatial targeting for nutrient reduction in a Midwestern USA watershed. Landscape and Urban Planning. 137: 64-75 (PDF)

Rittenhouse, Chadwick D. and Adena R. Rissman. 2015. Changes in winter conditions impact forest management in north temperate forests. Journal of Environmental Management. 149:157-167 (PDF)

Locke, Christina M. and Adena R. Rissman. 2015. Factors influencing zoning ordinance adoption in rural and exurban townships. Landscape and Urban Planning. 134:167-176 (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R. and Robert Smail. 2014. Accounting for results: how conservation organizations report performance information. Environmental Management. (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R., Jessica Owley, M. Rebecca Shaw, and Barton H. (Buzz) Thompson. 2014. Adapting conservation easements to climate change. Conservation Letters. (PDF)

Olson, Erik, Jennifer Stenglein, Victoria Shelley, Adena R. Rissman, Christine Brown-Nunez, Zachary Voyles, Adrian Wydeven, Timothy Van Deelen. 2014. Pendulum swings in wolf management led to conflict, illegal kills, and a legislated wolf hunt. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12141. (PDF)

Janowiak, M.K. et al. (44 authors). 2014. Forest ecosystem vulnerability assessment and synthesis for northern Wisconsin and western Upper Michigan: a report from the Northwoods Climate Change Response Framework project. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. (link)

Handler, S. et al. (43 authors). 2014. Michigan forest ecosystem vulnerability assessment and synthesis: a report from the Northwoods Climate Change Response Framework project. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. (link)

Handler, S. et al. (41 authors). 2014. Minnesota forest ecosystem vulnerability assessment and synthesis: a report from the Northwoods Climate Change Response Framework project. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. (link)

Rissman, Adena R., Menka Bihari, Christopher Hamilton, Christina Locke, David Lowenstein, Melissa Motew, Jessica Price, and Robert Smail. 2013. Land management restrictions and options for change in perpetual conservation easements. Environmental Management. 52:277-288. (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R. 2013. Rethinking property rights: comparative analysis of conservation easements for wildlife conservation. Environmental Conservation. 40(3): 222–230. (PDF)

Gerber, Jean-David and Adena R. Rissman. 2012. Land conservation strategies: the dynamic relationship between acquisition and land use planning. Environment and Planning A. 44: 1836-1855. (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R. and Nathan F. Sayre. 2012. Conservation outcomes and social relations: a comparative study of private ranchland conservation easements. Society and Natural Resources. 25(6): 523-538. (PDF)

Locke, Christina M. and Adena R. Rissman. 2012. Unexpected co-benefits: forest connectivity and property tax incentives. Landscape and Urban Planning. 104: 418-425. (PDF)

Rittenhouse, Chadwick D. and Adena R. Rissman. 2012. Forest cover, carbon sequestration, and wildlife habitat: policy review and modeling of tradeoffs among land-use change scenarios. Environmental Science and Policy 21: 94-105. (PDF)

Rittenhouse, Chadwick D., Eunice A. Padley, Karl J. Martin, and Adena R. Rissman. 2012. Past and potential future land cover change around Wisconsin’s State Forests. WDNR Research Report 193.

Carpenter, Stephen R. and Adena R. Rissman. 2012. Scenarios and decisionmaking for complex environmental systems. In Bengston, David N., comp. Environmental futures research: experiences, approaches, and opportunities. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-107. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R. 2011. Evaluating conservation effectiveness and adaptation in dynamic landscapes. Law and Contemporary Problems. 74: 145-173. (PDF)

Owley, Jessica and Adena R. Rissman. 2011. Distributed graduate seminars: an interdisciplinary approach to studying land conservation. Pace Environmental Law Review Online Companion. 2(1): 88-101. (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R. and Van Butsic. 2011. Land trust defense and enforcement of conserved areas. Conservation Letters. 4(1): 31-37. (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R. 2010. Designing perpetual conservation agreements for land management. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 63: 167-175. (PDF)

Morris, Amy and Adena R. Rissman. 2009. Public access to information on private land conservation: tracking conservation easements. Wisconsin Law Review. 6: 1237-1282. (PDF)

Merenlender, Adina M., David Newburn, Sarah E. Reed, and Adena R. Rissman. 2009. The importance of incorporating threat for efficient targeting and evaluation of conservation investments. Conservation Letters. 2(5): 240-241. (PDF)

Byrd, Kristin B., Adena R. Rissman, and Adina M. Merenlender. 2009. Evaluating the capacity of conservation easements to safeguard ecosystem function in an oak woodland landscape under scenarios of future development. Landscape and Urban Planning. 92: 106-116. (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R. and Adina M. Merenlender. 2008. The conservation contributions of conservation easements: analysis of the San Francisco Bay Area protected lands spatial database. Ecology and Society. 13(1): 40. [online] URL: (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R., Tosha Comendant, Lynn Lozier, Peter Kareiva, Joseph M. Kiesecker, M. Rebecca Shaw, and Adina M. Merenlender. 2007. Conservation easements: private use and biodiversity protection. Conservation Biology. 21(3): 709-718. (PDF)

Kiesecker, Joseph M., Gary Amaon, Tosha Comendant, Terra Grandmason, Elizabeth Gray, Christine Hall, Richard Hilsenbeck, Peter Kareiva, Lynn Lozier, Patrick Naehu, Adena R. Rissman, M. Rebecca Shaw, and Mark Zankel. 2007. Conservation easements in context: a quantitative analysis of their use by The Nature Conservancy. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 3(5): 125-130. (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R., Richard Reiner, Adina M. Merenlender. 2007. Monitoring natural resources on rangeland conservation easements. Rangelands. 29(3): 21-26. (PDF)

Rissman, Adena R., Sarah E. Reed, Chuck Hughes, and Richard Reiner. 2006. Monitoring understory composition of blue oak woodlands on conservation easements. Proceedings of the Sixth Symposium on Oak Woodlands, California’s Oaks: Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Opportunities, October 9-12, 2006, Rohnert Park, CA. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report. (PDF)