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

ROOM: Room 230 – Pecos
During the past several decades, The Wildlife Society (TWS) has become recognized as the organization of wildlife professionals in North America and throughout the world. 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 the wildlife programs or projects, 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 includes 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.

1:10PM Conservation Decision-Making through Transparency, Inclusion, and Use of Best Available Science
  Rebecca Humphries
A wicked problem is defined as “a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.” Many of the issues wildlife management agencies face fall into the category of wicked problems. It requires balancing social desires with resource allocation, wildlife population management, habitat management, biological and social carrying capacity, wildlife damage or conflict management and disease management. How do we balance social desires (and political pressure) with biological knowledge? All too often, we in the wildlife biology profession, assume that “science” will trump social desires. In reality social desires trump biological concerns in almost all cases. So how do we successfully inform policy decisions with good science? I will share several examples (successful and unsuccessful) of balancing biological and social science in Michigan as part our efforts to address wildlife disease and deer management. Building trust with the public, stakeholders, commissioners, and elected officials is a key step. Recognizing our own values, as wildlife professionals, and how we differ from our public takes awareness and strength. Providing a forum for opposing views to be heard and discussed is a critical component of good decision making. Learning from our past mistakes and provides opportunities to improve moving forward.
1:30PM Control of Apex Predators During the Restoration of Endangered Ungulates
  Eric M. Rominger
Between 1980 and 1999, the restoration of state endangered desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) in New Mexico was hampered by high levels of mountain lion (Puma concolor) predation. A decision to control mountain lions was made after it was determined that ~85% of the known-cause mortality was due to mountain lion predation and the statewide population had declined to <200 individuals. This decision was originally opposed by animal protection groups, however management side-boards including continued monitoring of cause specific mortality rates, increased frequency of aerial monitoring and helicopter surveys, lion-track surveys to document presence/absence of mountain lions in treated ranges, and accession of nearly all culled mountain lions at the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico deflected litigation. In 2012, desert bighorn sheep were delisted and returned to the status of a hunted big game species.Between 1987 and 1996, the attempt to restore federally endangered woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus) in northern Idaho and northeastern Washington was hampered by high levels of mountain lion predation. Virtually no effort was made to control mountain lions. Despite the translocation of ~90 woodland caribou from British Columbia the herd has declined to fewer than 30 individuals. Selkirk woodland caribou remain an endangered species nearly 40 years after their listing.
1:50PM Integrating Stakeholder Input and Science in Governance of the Public Trust in Wildlife
  John F. Organ; Shawn A. Riley; Daniel J. Decker
Standards – some legal, some normative – that wildlife policy must be informed by science(s) evolved in the institution of wildlife conservation. These standards manifested as expert authority models of public participation, where technical experts influenced by a narrow array of stakes – mostly agricultural or hunter-oriented – determined which values counted and which management interventions were in society’s best interest. Participatory governance models, where stakeholders expect and have a greater level of participation in policy, are progressively replacing expert authority models. This trend presents opportunities and challenges to trustees of wildlife resources. Opportunities lie in greater abilities to be more responsive to societal needs and desires within ecological and social limits set by the environment. Abundant challenges exist in trustees’ ability to determine appropriate levels of public participation in decisions without obscuring legal obligations to maintain separation between trustees and beneficiaries. We explore how public trust and governance principles can be applied to integrate insights from human dimensions and ecological science to ensure science-informed participatory management.
2:10PM Effective Implementation of the Endangered Species Act By Engaging Multiple Stakeholders
  Nancy E. Mathews
The Endangered Species Act is considered one of the most forward looking pieces of environmental legislation in the world. The Act was originally intended to protect rare, threatened and endangered species and was subsequently modified to protect critical habitat. In its modification in 1982, the Act provided assurances and incentives for private land owners to protect species through habitat conservation. Over the past 10 years, however, the Act has seen declining public support, in part due to growing concern over states’ rights, constraints on economic growth and development, and costs involved in protecting species and their habitat. More recently, there has been a growing distrust of federal land managers and environmental scientists who collect data to help inform legislative decisions. Involvement of private landowners in endangered species conservation has consequently been and will continue to be essential. This paper addresses several case studies of successful involvement of communities and private land owners in endangered species conservation. Successful approaches to implementing the Act, based on principles of community-based conservation, will be discussed. These have even more significance given uncertainty about reauthorization and the future for and of the Act itself.
2:30PM Moving Feral Cat Management Forward
  Christopher A. Lepczyk
Feral cats have long been a concern to native wildlife due to their predatory nature and potential for disease spread. However, feral cats have become a growing concern over the past several decades as populations have increased in many urban areas and management options have become contentious. In particular, the push for methods such as trap neuter release (TNR) and the growth of the no kill movement have led to a situation of great contention amongst stakeholders on how to manage feral cats, often resulting in no forward movement or long-term solution. Today the issue of cat management is largely social and not scientific. Given the number of municipalities around the world seeking to address feral cats, the amount of money directed towards shaping the debate, and the variety of organizations involved, cat management has thus become a top wildlife management issue. To address this issue I take an interdisciplinary approach and work with agencies, NGOs, and multiple stakeholders in seeking to advance management options in locations around the world. Throughout the course of these projects and groups I have encountered both pitfalls and pathways to success, which can provide guidance towards cat management.
2:30PM Women as Collaborative Leaders on Rangelands in the Western United States
  Laura Van Riper
Some of the most controversial debates in the U.S. today concern the appropriate management of wildlife and other natural resources. These conflicts are frequently termed ‘wicked problems’ and are characterized by: (1) technical complexity, little scientific agreement, and incomplete information; (2) regulatory complexity, and inequalities in distribution of political power, resources, and access to information; and (3) diverse, multidimensional, and often competing values and goals. Wicked problems are typically clusters of interrelated or interdependent issues that cannot be resolved in relative isolation from one another; and they often have more than one possible solution – each with differing tradeoffs and levels of uncertainty regarding outcomes. Successful negotiation of wicked problems requires a re-examination of management approaches in order to move beyond traditional problem-solving strategies. Historically, natural resource policy, planning, and management have been more attentive to and adept at addressing the biophysical dimension; while social processes have not been adequately understood or addressed. This has spawned distrust, inaction, polarization and litigation between citizens, agencies and organizations. The successful development and implementation of wildlife policy requires more than good scientific information alone; it requires the ability to effectively navigate conflicts and engage the people who most affect and are affected by policy decisions. This presentation will draw upon the experiences of individuals enveloped in the decades-long conflict over water and fish in the Klamath River Basin, Oregon to provide a tangible sense of the ecological, economic, and socio-political realities of the Basin. It will showcase the human element that lies at the heart of this issue, and the importance of creating safe spaces for dialogue and deliberation, relationship and trust building, and mutual learning and the creation of a shared vision among diverse individuals as a foundation for resolving natural resource conflicts and developing sustainable ecosystems and communities.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM The Politics of Deer Farming in North Carolina – Lessons Learned
  Robert D. Brown
Prior to 2015, white-tailed deer were allowed to be raised and sold in-state and out-of-state, but not hunted behind high fences in North Carolina. Due to the proliferation of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in other states, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) delayed a decision, requested by the state’s deer farmers, to approve increasing the size of current deer farms, permitting new deer farms, or allowing importation of deer from other states. This led to conflict among the deer farmers, hunting and conservation groups, the WRC, and the state legislature. Despite the appointment of a WRC-CWD Task Force to study the potential impact of such rules on the proliferation of CWD and substantial public and legislative opposition to such changes, the legislature approved the changes in the last hours of the 2015 session. In addition, regulatory authority over deer farms was transferred from the WRC to the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The details of this conflict, the lessons learned, and implications for other states should be of interest to all wildlifers.
3:40PM The Art of Deer Management: Finding the Sweet Spot between Biological Reality and Public Acceptance
  Jason A. Sumners
The white-tailed deer is arguably the most important game animal in North America and the public is heavily vested in many aspects of deer management. Public opinions and philosophies about deer management often stem from traditions and long-held ideals. Therefore, any discussion of deer hunting or management is likely to elicit strong and diverse responses. Additionally, because conflicts between deer and humans can range from agricultural damage, deer-vehicle collisions, landscaping damage, and suppression of forest regeneration to human health concerns, state wildlife agencies attempt to minimize the negative impacts by keeping deer populations at acceptable levels and providing landowners and communities a diversity of management alternatives. As a result of the diversity of stakeholders affected by deer management it is critical that effective communication and engagement be a priority to ensure the long-term success of a deer management program. However, it is widely recognized that engaging large diverse groups of stakeholders is extremely difficult and clearly communicating management strategies is no simple task. In this presentation we will discuss Missouri’s approach to development and implementation of a 10-year deer management plan in a shifting social, biological, and political landscape. For example, Traditional deer management of the past focused on increasing deer numbers at a large geographic scale which was relatively simple to accomplish through limited harvest quotas. Now that populations have been established the focus shifts to finding the delicate balance of stabilizing local deer populations at biologically appropriate and socially acceptable levels, which is more difficult than management efforts of the past. Additionally, balancing the desires of various user groups, and factors influencing an individual’s motivation for hunting must be closely investigated when determining appropriate deer season structure and regulations to ensure that appropriate levels of hunter satisfaction are maintained while meeting population management goals.
4:00PM Conservation By Conflict
  Sherry L. Barrett
Conservation through Conflict Recovery of Mexican wolves is reliant on increasing social tolerance for the reestablishment of a top predator in a working landscape. Our efforts have focused on working with livestock producers, local communities, and landowners to find ways to offset economic effects of Mexican wolves. We are also working with local, state, and Tribal, and Federal agencies in the United States and Mexico to develop criteria for recovery of the Mexican wolf. Accomplishing landscape level conservation of endangered species is rarely without conflict, especially in areas where people fear that implementation of conservation programs will dramatically affect their livelihood. Finding solutions for complex conservation issues requires flexible thinking, negotiation skills, and the ability to compromise to find ways to accomplish conservation goals without significantly adversely affecting the socioeconomics of local communities. Being honest and genuine with people affected by change will build mutual trust and help find common ground, which leads to innovative solutions.
4:40PM Canary in the Marijuana Field: How Wildlife Engaged Stakeholders and Policy in Addressing Environmental Impacts from Marijuana Cultivation in the Western United States
  Mourad W. Gabriel
Prior to 2012 the discussion surrounding marijuana cultivation was charged politically, emotionally and sensationally. One point that was missing from debates was the environmental costs stemming from marijuana cultivation. Unfortunately, research, data or any outside knowledge describing the environmental impacts from marijuana cultivation on public lands prior to 2012 was extremely limited. It wasn’t until that year, when a foundational paper on exposure to and mortality attributed from pesticides found at marijuana cultivation sites in a rare forest mesocarnivore, the fisher, brought this issue front and center in the main-stream venues. This paper generated national and international media coverage which initiated and, in many instances, forced candid discussions within governmental agencies and communities on the topic of marijuana cultivation and its environmental footprint. However, the fisher data generated by researchers was met with skepticism from both the scientific field and the public. Most of the criticism was based on the notion that researchers were overestimating the importance of these impacts and that it was trivial in comparison to other risks this carnivore was undergoing. Additionally, data gathering on the topic was slow yet meticulous due to the inherent danger and minimal support for continuation of projects. It wasn’t until continued data collection efforts and hundreds of presentations demonstrating water, soil, vegetation, ESA listed and game species contamination from pesticides used at these sites, fortified a more cohesive stakeholder discussion on the matter. Stakeholders from environmental, conservation, hunting and fishing groups, and agencies were then actively discussing and engaging policy makers in developing solutions. Though the topic initially appeared to be polarizing, once additional scientific data demonstrated numerous affected factions, a common thread of engagement was directed towards wildlife conservation efforts.

Organizers: Gino J. D’Angelo, University of Georgia, Athens, GA; William F. Porter, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI; David Williams, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Supported by: Boone and Crockett Club, University Programs Committee, TWS College and University Education Working Group

Location: Albuquerque Convention Center Date: September 24, 2017 Time: 1:10 pm - 5:00 pm