Challenges of Balancing Stakeholder Engagement and Scientific Decision-Making to Inform Wildlife Policy

ROOM: CC, Room 26A
The wildlife profession is solidly founded in the disciplines of biological, quantitative, and social sciences, yet wildlife professionals also must function within the reality of political and public arenas. Thus, in their efforts to manage and conserve wildlife populations and habitats, wildlife biologists often encounter politically and publicly challenging situations. Sometimes, political motivations or public special interests may interfere with the objective and scientific programs or projects being conducted by wildlife professionals. In these situations, political and public interests may not only question the scientific validity of wildlife programs, but they may even cast aspersions as to the integrity and motivations of the wildlife professionals who are in charge of the programs or projects. This symposium will include presentations from speakers who have had experiences in the real world working with state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations that will enable them to address situations where wildlife policy programs have succeeded or failed. These experiences should help symposium attendees to be better prepared to deal with the challenge of having science guide the decision-making process associated with wildlife management.

12:50PM Coyote Wars Move East: Stakeholder Reaction to Fawn Predation Research
  John Kilgo
Coyotes (Canis latrans) have been persecuted since the nineteenth century. Historically, bounty and control programs, sanctioned by various local, state, and federal governments, were motivated primarily by livestock protection concerns and amounted to a war on coyotes. These efforts were largely unsuccessful, as coyotes only expanded their range to encompass most of the continent. Eastward range expansion during the latter half of the twentieth century coincided with a growing concern among the American public for predators and their role in ecosystem processes. In the newly colonized eastern U.S., the presence of coyotes initially raised little concern, especially among wildlife managers. However, during the past 10 years considerable research has been published elucidating the significant effects coyote predation can have on recruitment in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations in the southeastern U.S. Indeed, in many areas, the level of sustainable hunter harvest of deer has been considerably reduced. This research has engendered considerable public interest and has been widely cited in the popular press. Although some segments of the hunting public have long favored predator control because predators compete for game, the publication of scientific data demonstrating high predation rates has seemingly provided a sounder basis for arguments that coyote populations should be controlled. Further, this sentiment seems to have spread widely among deer hunters in the region. Yet evidence for improved recruitment following coyote control is inconclusive even when control effectively reduces coyote population size. I argue that the high costs of control combined with the ability of coyotes to rapidly repopulate controlled areas and the uncertainty of realizing improved deer recruitment means that coyote control is rarely justifiable as a management tool. Nevertheless, three southeastern states, under pressure from stakeholder groups, have enacted bounty-type systems for coyotes, highlighting the difficulty of conveying somewhat counter-intuitive information to highly motivated stakeholders.
1:10PM Ecology and Human Dimensions of Red Wolf Recovery: A Perspective From the Field
  Joseph Hinton
Prior to 2014, red wolf recovery in eastern NC received little attention from the public, scientific community, and conservation organizations. However, the red wolf received considerably more attention from these groups when the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) were sued for allowing night-time hunting of coyotes in the recovery area and violating the Endangered Species Act, respectively. The NCWRC settled with environmental groups to end night-time hunting in the recovery area, whereas litigation against the USFWS is still ongoing. Despite efforts to quantify public support, the USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Program expanded recovery efforts from approximately 480 km2 of federal land to approximately 6,000 km2 of federal, state, and private lands over a 25-year period. Clearly, expanding efforts to include an area two-thirds the size of Yellowstone National Park was accomplished with the involvement of private landowners and local communities. Distrust between local communities and government agencies is common in wildlife management, and problems involving red wolves are interconnected with other management issues. For example, local animosity toward the USFWS’s management of water levels is not related to red wolves. However, landowners who are supportive of wolf recovery have denied federal biologists access to their properties and demanded that wolves be removed after those landowners became frustrated over issues of water control. Red wolf recovery has always operated under some level of conflict, whether it was related to the wolves or other federal conservation projects, and the USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Program found solutions while managing wolves under complex, tense relationships between local communities and federal agencies. This paper addresses how federal biologists used flexible thinking, negotiation skills, and the ability to compromise to advance red wolf recovery, as such nuances are often left out the scientific literature and government white papers.
1:30PM Bacteria and Viruses and Prions, Oh My: Dealing with Stakeholders on Wildlife Disease Issues
  Louis Cornicelli
State wildlife agency (SWA) disease response often occurs at the interface of wildlife and agriculture. As stakeholders appropriately believe they should have a voice, disease response presents numerous challenges. Regardless of the issue, pressure is on the SWA to respond more or less aggressively, depending on the group. Since 2002, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has responded to chronic wasting disease (CWD), bovine tuberculosis (BTb), and avian influenza (AI) outbreaks in both farmed and wild populations. Each of these has presented individualized challenges, which have influenced decision-making. I will present 3 examples to show how conflicting stakeholder objectives can challenge the ability of the SWA to conduct measured disease surveillance and response. CWD has been found in 8 Minnesota captive cervid facilities, one of which resulted in a presumed spillover to wild deer. That spillover resulted in aggressive deer management actions that likely influenced the fact that the disease did not become established. However, significant stakeholder concerns related to deer population reductions, denial by the captive cervid industry and their regulators of their role, and recreational deer feeders presented challenges. For BTb, a southwestern/Mexican strain of the bacteria was found in northwest Minnesota cattle in February 2005. Surveillance that fall identified a single infected wild white-tailed deer. Given the agricultural implications, the issue was highly controversial and resulted in the Governor directing DNR to use a helicopter to shoot deer. While agricultural stakeholders were supportive, others were opposed and still harbor resentment 10 years later. For AI, the disease was found in late winter 2015 and despite the lack of wild waterfowl in the area, they were implicated in disease transmission. Despite documentation indicating human-mediated transmission, industry stakeholders and their regulators focused attention on the SWA and successfully assigned blame, despite significant testing to indicate otherwise.
1:50PM Elk management in the political landscape of northwestern Minnesota
  Gino J. D’Angelo; Eric M. Walberg; Alicia E. Freeman; Louis Cornicelli; David C. Fulton
In Minnesota, the eastern subspecies of elk (Cervus elaphus canadensis) was once numerous across the prairie and forest-transition zone. Settlement of Europeans brought unregulated hunting and conversion of land to agriculture. By the early 1900s, elk were extirpated in the state. Starting in 1914, Rocky Mountain elk were brought to Minnesota to begin restoration efforts. Currently, about 130 elk are found in rural northwestern Minnesota. The region is primarily agricultural land in a mosaic of forests, wetlands, and prairie. A variety of commodities susceptible to elk depredation are produced in the region, including row crops and small grains. Elk management in Minnesota has been defined by conflicts between elk and agricultural producers. The anti-elk sentiment prominent in the public arena suggested that elk were not valued by residents of the region. Contentious politics over elk brought about legislation requiring Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to maintain elk numbers at low levels. In 2015, we initiated the first research of elk in Minnesota including: 1) basic ecological study to investigate the movements and habitat use of elk, and 2) human dimensions research to elucidate the attitudes of landowners in northwestern Minnesota about elk. Elk occupied a small proportion of potential habitat and were segregated in four geographically distinct subgroups, including a herd which transitions across the border with Manitoba. Perhaps most revealing, we found that 69% of landowners within elk range were supportive of having elk in the region and 50% preferred to increase the elk population over the next 10 years. Although attitudes were negatively correlated with the proportion of respondents’ income derived from farming, 58% of farmers held positive views about elk. Careful management aimed at minimizing elk-human conflicts will be key to the long-term persistence of elk in Minnesota and to enhance the benefits associated with the species.
2:10PM The Management of Humans with Interests in Invasive Wild Pigs
  Kurt VerCauteren; Jeanine Neskey
Populations of invasive wild pigs (Sus scrofa) have greatly increased and expanded across North America during the past thirty years. Concomitant with this, increased detrimental effects of wild pigs to agricultural and natural resources are being realized. Damage to crops and native ecosystems, competition with wildlife and livestock for food resources, pathogen transmission to wildlife and livestock, and decreasing biodiversity of native species of animals and plants are examples of negative impacts of wild pigs. Although some stakeholders find value in wild pigs for recreational purposes and others may profit from them, it is to a far lesser degree than the negative impacts of this invasive species. In 2014, Congress initiated funding to support the establishment of the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program of USDA/APHIS/Wildlife Services. The clear mission of the science-driven Program is to cooperate with other agencies, entities and stakeholders in eradicating invasive wild pigs where possible and suppressing populations to reduce the damages they inflict where they are too numerous to eliminate at this time. The Program enables the targeted removal of invasive wild pigs to protect agricultural and natural resources. With the lethal removal of any species there often comes controversy. Here, we detail the lessons we are learning to effectively convey our messages. As wildlife professionals it is vital to understand and relate to our audience. We must improve our ability to communicate complicated management needs to diverse public as there are issues on the horizon that will pose even greater challenges than those we are dealing with today.
2:30PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM An evaluation of State Incentive Programs for Habitat Management on Private Land
  Luke Macaulay; Madeline Layeghi
This project seeks to compare various state policy mechanisms that incentivize habitat conservation and improvement on private land and identify innovative strategies as well as strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to this issue. The analysis performs a review of various state policies for these types of incentive programs and will attempt to classify the various programs at a broad level. Further analysis will involve interviewing participants and/or implementers of these programs to determine what aspects of these programs work effectively or not. We seek to present a preliminary review of these programs and identify best practices that state policy-makers may find useful. Finally, this preliminary research will seek to develop a strategy for more intensive research and analysis in the future.
3:40PM Wild Horse and Burro Management: Using Science and Coalitions to Advance Sound Policy
  Keith A. Norris; Cameron J. Kovach; Caroline E. Murphy
Wild horse and burro management policies in the United States are often met with great controversy. Wild horses and burros evoke strong emotions from a wide range of stakeholder groups passionate about public lands and wildlife. Despite populations that exceed ecologically based management objectives established by federal agencies, creation and implementation of policies that could help achieve management objectives are regularly stymied by emotional and political debate. The Wildlife Society bases its feral horse and burro policy position on sound science and a base value of native wildlife conservation. However, TWS’ position is one voice in the context of other, and at times conflicting, stakeholder values. As such, The Wildlife Society staff, chapters, sections, and members have worked to engage other stakeholders, federal agency administrators, and members of Congress to effect changes in management decisions and outcomes in pursuit of stated policy positions. In 2013, TWS helped create the National Horse & Burro Rangeland Management Coalition. This coalition brings together a broad range of national and local organizations to help advance changes to the management of wild horses and burros. TWS has served in leadership positions of this coalition, working to expand the coalition’s membership, engagement, and influence with policy and decision makers. TWS efforts have reached beyond the coalition and included direct engagement with other stakeholder groups to seek common ground on wild horse and burro management approaches. Over the past 5 years, TWS has been successful in generating attention to the issue, and changes seem to be on the horizon. Sustainable policy decisions that effect on-the-ground management of wild horses and burros will ultimately require the support of a broad range of stakeholders.
4:00PM West-wide Wild and Domestic Sheep Management Dilemma
  Mike Cox
Historically bighorn sheep in the United States were broadly distributed across the west. Disease, unregulated harvest, and habitat degradation contributed to entire herds being extirpated. Estimated to be nearly 1 million before western settlement, bighorn numbers by the mid-1900’s were less than 30,000. West-wide bighorn translocation and habitat programs were implemented across their historic range from 1960’s to present. Successful bighorn repatriation also restored natural bighorn foray activity and pioneering movements. In concert with customary stray domestic sheep from large public land flocks, the chances of wild/domestic sheep interactions dramatically increased. Most western states began to experience bighorn die-offs in their reintroduced bighorn herds and documenting wild and domestic sheep interactions. Repeated scientific research experiments beginning in the 1980’s showed that bighorn sheep died soon after exposure to domestic sheep that carried virulent pathogens. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the late 1990’s brought together bighorn sheep managers to develop sheep separation guidelines on public lands. Continued bighorn die-offs and lack of separation fueled litigation by conservation organizations in the mid 2000’s. This in turn stimulated a series of collaborative workshops, science panels, science-based guidelines, and enhanced research in late 2000s, bringing together health professionals, biologists, woolgrowers, and conservationists representing agriculture and wildlife interests. Bighorn disease events continued with worst year ever in 2010 involving 2,500 adult and lamb deaths. It is time for a paradigm shift in seeking a different approach to communication with the domestic sheep industry with less emphasis on science. We assumed science would “carry the day”. The Book, Righteous Mind, explains that many people don’t rationalize or appreciate science but instead believe in basic concepts that support their moral compass. We must focus more on “why” we want healthy bighorn sheep herds and less on the “how” and “what” involving the science of disease ecology.
4:20PM Building Trust Among Conservation Stakeholders Around Shared Values
  Davia M. Palmeri
Politically and publicly challenging situations are an inevitable part of managing fish and wildlife in trust for the public. The public is made up of a diverse group of humans who value our natural resources for a spectrum of reasons. Science and research can describe the outcomes of alternative decisions, but policy makers in the legislature frequently set the outcome that we must strive for. If stakeholders do not agree on the chosen outcome, a public reaction can occur. In Oregon, like other states, there has been a long history of organizations and individuals feeling alienated and outraged by decisions that violated their values. In this talk, I will summarize a few of the recent major issues such as wolf management and uplisting of a threatened bird. I’ll then share some of the techniques we are using to build a politically active community of stakeholders who all recognize the value of the agency’s management of public trust resources–even if they do not agree with some decisions. It is important to realize that advocates for or against fish and wildlife management issues are a minority of the overall public. The agency is taking steps to create a united conservation coalition of these people who care to tackle the big challenges, like finding dedicated, sustainable funding to conserve all species.
4:40PM Balancing Science and Stakeholder Interests in the Conservation of Lesser Prairie-Chickens
  David Haukos
Lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) present a unique conservation challenge. Population abundance and occupied range of the species have been declining since the early 1900s with increasing conservation concern since the late 1980s. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the lesser prairie-chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2014. A federal judge vacated the ruling in 2015 and the species was removed from the threatened list in 2016. However, consideration of re-listing is ongoing. Numerous factors contributed to the species decline including conversion of native prairies to row-crop or intensively grazed agriculture, invasive woody vegetation, unmanaged grazing, avoidance of anthropogenic structures, and declining habitat quality. However, >99% of occupied lesser prairie-range is on private land and includes areas of high priority for fossil fuel extraction, development of renewable energy sources, livestock production, and increased intensification of row-crop agriculture. Furthermore, lesser prairie-chicken populations require large areas to persist. Therefore, a potential conflict exists between conservation of lesser prairie-chickens and economic development of private lands. Results from scientific investigations (e.g., habitat selection, recruitment, movements, home range, response to anthropogenic structures, response to management) are used to inform conservation strategies. For example, the lack of evidence of fence collisions causing measureable levels of mortality resulted in the discontinued marking of fences, reducing an expensive and required element for participation of many landowners in conservations programs targeting lesser prairie-chickens. Avoidance distances of anthropogenic structures by lesser prairie-chickens are used to mitigate energy production activities. Habitat requirements informed landscape models for the greatest benefit from removing woody vegetation and establishing Conservation Reserve Program fields. Recommendations for grazing management to benefit lesser prairie-chickens and minimize effects on private landowners have been developed. Use of results from scientific investigations can abate negative responses to conservation strategies for species dependent on private lands.

Organizers: Gino J. D’Angelo, University of Georgia Athens, GA; David Williams, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Supported by: Boone and Crockett Club, University Programs Committee; Early Career Professional Working Group of The Wildlife Society

Location: Cleveland CC Date: October 8, 2018 Time: 12:50 pm - 5:00 pm