Interactions between people and carnivores in Washington State
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Human-wildlife interactions have become a central focus of conservation research and policy. Interactions between humans and large carnivores are especially challenging because these species typically require large landscapes, compete for prey, and may pose a threat to some livelihoods, meaning that their presence is often incompatible with anthropogenic land use priorities. Protected areas are important for the conservation of large carnivores, but even the largest protected areas cover only a small percentage of the landscape that is required by these species. Therefore, large carnivores often interact with humans away from protected areas and within human-dominated landscapes. The challenges of large carnivore conservation in human-dominated landscapes are both ecological and social. As large carnivores move about for daily, seasonal or relocation movements they require movement habitat and space. It is unknown whether having connected habitat that enables carnivore movements could increase human-carnivore interactions in human dominated landscapes. Therefore, I used GPS-collar data and Circuitscape software to assess whether landscape connectivity influenced interactions between cougars (Puma concolor) and humans in areas of western Washington, USA. I found a higher incidence of cougar-human interactions in areas of low landscape connectivity, closer to roads and rivers, and farther away from public forests. These results suggest that in human dominated landscapes intact landscape connectivity may have the advantage of discouraging interactions between cougars and humans. Where human-carnivore interactions occur, it is important to understand what the humans who share space with the carnivores think of nonlethal ways to prevent negative interactions and economic ways to realize benefits from carnivores that can promote coexistence. Thus, I also conducted interviews with stakeholders concerned with wolves (Canis lupus) to document what motivates ranchers to participate in cost-shared nonlethal strategies, and whether predator-friendly beef would be a feasible economic measure to increase positive coexistence between ranches and wolves. Through this interview process I found that both economic and social factors motivate and constrain ranchers from participating in cost-shared nonlethal strategies to better coexist with wolves. Ranchers were already participating in nonlethal strategies that were recommended in the cost-shared programs and therefore were not motivated to enroll in similar programs. Furthermore, participating in cost-shared programs was not consequential for ranchers because all ranchers are eligible for compensation for livestock lost to wolves whether or not they are enrolled in nonlethal programs. Interviews investigating predator-friendly beef as an economic benefit to enable ranchers to better coexist with wolves revealed that ranchers could be motivated to participate because of the opportunity to communicate to non-ranchers. The constraints to predator-friendly beef label, however, included competition on the market with other certified products and underlying social factors that would dissuade ranchers from participating in predator-friendly beef certifications. The findings from the two qualitative chapters suggest that rural residents might participate better in cost-share programs if those programs were led by their local leaders, and more streamlined to reduce the regulatory burden to the ranchers. Mitigation strategies could be localized to enable ranchers to work with their neighbors and local associations to implement socially acceptable and adaptable nonlethal measures to better coexist with wolves and other large carnivores.
- Forestry