Humans and carnivores in the Wild West

The American West is a region full of pristine nature, high mountains, national parks and Wilderness. The populations of large carnivores are still thriving there, including black bear, polar bear, grizzly bear, puma, wolf and coyote. However, humans are increasingly encroaching on their habitat, leading to more and more conflicts. Research has a crucial role to provide an understanding of the human-carnivore interactions that the managers can then use to resolve conflicts.

A recent review by Expósito-Granados et al. looked at how research in Western America addresses human-wildlife relations. They found that the ecological and social factors play an important role in human-carnivore relations. For example, there is a bias in research towards large carnivores, focusing more on bears and wolves than on puma. In addition, the research focuses a lot on conflicts, especially damages to food.

Research should put more emphasis on the ecosystem services that carnivores provide, especially for bears. At the moment, the ecosystem services identified most often include cultural services, such as sport hunting. Besides, the role carnivores have in regulating the ecosystems is only rarely recognised. Yet, by recognising this ecosystem service, the research is more likely to focus on tolerance rather than conflict with carnivores.

An interesting insight is that the focus on coexistence is much larger on federal than on private lands. In states with a lot of federal land there are efforts to segregate the carnivores from humans, to avoid human intervention. This has for example been done by designating Wilderness, where human activities are directly limited, giving carnivores a space to thrive. At the same time, more efforts are needed to ensure coexistence also in areas with private land. There such segregation is not possible.

Inclusion of the most important stakeholders

With so many different stakeholders related to carnivores, it is important to include them into achieving coexistence, as well as research on the topic. Yet, the research primarily focuses on managers and did not mention farmers and property owners. However, working with the latter two stakeholders is absolutely crucial. Only so can we reduce damage caused by carnivores and in this way increase tolerance.

European Wilderness Society is currently preparing a LIFE project together with leading farming organisations of the German speaking Alps. The project will focus on livestock protection as a way to reduce human-wolf conflict in Europe. In this way, our project will focus directly on the work with stakeholders that also still need more representation in research.

Source: Mónica Expósito-Granados et al. (2019). Human-carnivore relations: conflicts, tolerance and coexistence in the American West. Environmental Research Letters 14: 123005. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/ab5485

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