Dr. Bilal Butt is an Associate Professor in the School for Environment & Sustainability at the University of Michigan, and a faculty affiliate of the Science Technology and Public Policy Program, African Studies Center, Graham Sustainability Institute


His research is concerned with understanding the drivers and effects of violent conflicts over natural resources. He places a large emphasis on empirical fieldwork to understand the lived geographies of the interactions between people and the environment in ecologically heterogenous regions. He combines various geospatial technologies (such as putting GPS units on cows) with historical and ecological dynamics of dryland environments to understand how differential power relations between agencies, states and other actors come together to influence the etiology of resource conflicts . He is also interested in the ways that scientific and technical appraisals of indigenous peoples and environments have misread the landscape, leading to orientalist approaches to development programs. He has also had a long history of engagement on questions of environmental conflicts, particular around wildlife poaching, land grabs and green energy. Dr. Butt received the National Science Foundations Career Award and is a recipient of the Superior Teaching Award from the University of Michigan. He has published in diverse journals such as the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Remote Sensing of Environment, Journal of Applied Ecology and Humanity. He teaches courses on Conservation and Development, Political Ecology, Environmental Security and Conflict, Environmental Governance, and Preparing for International Fieldwork.

His publications can be accessed through Google Scholar and ORCID.


2020 – 2021: Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan
2017 – Present: Associate Professor of Environment and Sustainability School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan
2011 – 2017: Assistant Professor of Natural Resources & Environment School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan
2017 – Present: Faculty Affiliate, Department of Environmental Studies and Community Development at Kenyatta University.
2012 – 2014: Research Associate Center for Sustainable Dryland Ecosystems and Societies, University of Nairobi
2011: Research Associate, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin, Madison
2011: Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin, Madison
2008 – 2010: National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin, Madison
2008 – 2009: Honorary Fellow Land Tenure Center, Nelson Institute of Environment Studies, University of Wisconsin
2004 – 2007: Graduate Fellow People, Livestock and Environment Theme, International Livestock Research Institute
2002 – 2003: Consultant People, Livestock and Environment Theme, International Livestock Research Institute


2008 – 2011: Postdoc (Geography & Ecology) University of Wisconsin, Madison
2002 – 2007: PhD (Geography) Michigan State University
2000 – 2002: MA (Geography) Michigan State University

Selected grants, awards and honors

2018: A Peoples History of the Maasai Mara: Indigenous Knowledge and Local Practices Prior to national Parks in Kenya. (PIs: B. Butt and J. Muriithi)
2016: NSF CAREER: Situated Resilience and the New Geographies of Wildlife-Livestock Relationships (PI: B. Butt)
2015: Transforming Sustainability Education and Case-Based Teaching (PIs: A. Agrawal, R. Hardin)
2015: MCubed 2.0 Novel Sensor Packages and Big Data Algorithms for the Understanding of Wildlife and Livestock Interactions in the Semi-arid Ecosystems of East Africa (co-PIs: M. Johnson-Roberson, J. Abernathy and B. Butt)
2013: African Studies Research Initiative – Technologies of Conservation Governance & State Surveillance in Kenya’s Protected Areas (PI: B. Butt)
2013: MCubed – Unintended Consequences of Technology in Development (co-PIs: B. Butt, O. Adunbi, and J. Pal)
2012: NSF Research Starter Grant, Division of Biological Infrastructure – Understanding savanna vegetation dynamics in East Africa under different off-take methods and precipitation regimes (PI: B. Butt)
2011: University of Michigan SEED Grant – Science, Practice, and Public Participation: Natural Resource Monitoring in African Protected Areas (PI: B. Butt)
2008: Gill Chin Lim Award for Outstanding Dissertation in Global Studies, International Studies and Programs at Michigan State University
2007: NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Division of Biological Infrastructure (PI: B. Butt)
2005: NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement, Geography and Regional Science
2005: Compton Foundation Fellowship for Peace and Security Studies (PI: B. Butt)