Growing up in Bozeman, Montana Andie Creel MESc ’21 had nature at her doorstep. And when she says nature, she means wheat fields, cow pastures, and trails that lead to Gallatin Natural Forest — and Yellowstone National Park.
Add to that parents who were ecologists and it’s not surprising Creel developed an interest and appreciation for natural resources.
But she also had an up close view of how quickly the region was changing, watching as wheat fields were plowed down to make way for housing developments — with more land being sold off every year.
“That’s a story that’s common across the Western U.S., but the greater U.S., too, and it made me start to think about where our priorities are and what gets incentivized and what doesn’t,” Creel says.
After studying economics at Montana State University, Creel worked as a journalist for the Montana Engagement Partnership, a coalition of four nonprofits that works to conserve land, water and ocean resources while promoting healthy communities and social equity. That work gave her a heightened appreciation for the need to balance the complexities of conservation and human development.
At YSE, Creel’s research has focused on environmental valuation, climate change, and resource and agricultural economics. She first focused on researching the capital asset price of grizzly bears, which looked at human behavior and money spent on preserving the bears to set a cost on the preservation of individual bears. But when COVID-19 hit, she pivoted and began studying the use of parks during the pandemic. Using cell phone data, Creel found that park use increased during the pandemic.
“I think that what it shows is that parks are a substitute for other welfare-enhancing leisure activities. So, when things like bars, and restaurants, and movie theaters are closed, people do find that visiting parks are a good substitute,’’ she says. “We should invest in them, the same way we invest in other goods that increase people's wellbeing.”
While at YSE, Creel has served as the co-chair of the Student Affairs Committee, helping Student Interest Groups (SIGs) obtain funding and has helped coordinate the YSE BIOMES speaker series that promotes discussion on environmental issues.
In the fall, Creel will be continuing her studies in YSE’s PhD program, focusing on natural resource economics and sustainable development.
“What I hope to learn how to do is find robust ways to measure the contribution of natural resources in a way that governments will feel comfortable using these indicators to make policy decisions,” she says.