Human/Wildlife Conflict Management II

Contributed Oral

Avian Predation on Low-Salinity Shrimp Aquaculture
Caleb Amacker, Mark Smith, Brian Dorr, Luke Roy

Pacific white shrimp (Litopenaeus vannamei) is the most commonly produced shrimp in the world and prominent in the United States’ seafood industry. Aquaculture producers in the United States raise >2,000 metric tons of shrimp each year using low-salinity water (LSW) sources. Although many bird species frequent aquaculture facilities and are known or suspected of consuming shrimp, no studies have examined the impact these birds may have on final yield. Therefore, our objectives were to 1) assess the distribution and relative abundance of predatory birds on commercial shrimp farms in Alabama and Florida, 2) quantify the diet of these birds, 3) and estimate the total amount of shrimp consumed annually. During May-October 2020 and 2021, we conducted biweekly surveys to estimate the diversity and relative abundance of birds and then conducted collections of individuals observed actively foraging around shrimp production ponds at farms in Alabama and Florida. Collected birds were injected immediately with cold (<10° C) phosphate buffered saline to halt digestion and placed on ice. Necropsies were then performed to determine the diets of each bird. During 2020, a total of 58 birds (7 species) were collected with most (n=34) being collected during the harvesting months of September and October. Of these 34 birds, shrimp consumption (g dry weight shrimp/bird) varied with Pied-billed Grebes (1.67g), Great Egrets (1.85g), and Double-crested Cormorants (5.34g) consuming the most followed by Great (1.32g) and Little (0.47g) Blue Herons. We found that only select avian predators consume shrimp and do so closer to harvest when shrimp are mature and pond waters are lowered suggesting that management actions to mitigate losses may be targeted to a few species and may be most effective immediately before shrimp harvests.  Data from the 2021 field season will be completed and incorporated into these results at the time of presentation.

U. S. Public Opinion of Free-Roaming Horse Management in the Western U.S.
Nicki Frey Frey, Loretta Singletary, Derek Scasta, Jeffrey Beck

When enacted in December 1971, the Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act (Public Law 86-234) sought to protect free-roaming horses (Equus caballus) and burros (Equus asinus; i.e. wild horses and burros) on western U. S. public lands from commercial harvest and misuse. However, this law has been controversial since the day it was signed. Several National Research Council reports (1980, 1982, 2013) highlight the need for research into the social context of free roaming horse management, particularly studies that evaluate what aspects of horse management are supported by the public. In 2020, a collaborative group of Extension professionals conducted a national survey of public knowledge and opinion of free-roaming horses, through an online system using a Qualtrics portal; this resulted >5000 responses to more than 40 questions. We determined that in general, the U.S. public has little knowledge of the origin of wild horses in North America, where wild horses live in the west, habitat in which they live, and other important ecological considerations of wild horses. Respondents’ location had little influence on their level of knowledge. Furthermore, the U. S. public has little knowledge as the legal horse management options available to the federal government. This lack of knowledge has implications for the opinions and support of wild horse management on federal lands. For example, there is general support for permanent sterilization but concern about euthanasia for population control. However, euthanasia for distressed animals was highly supported. We will present the results of the survey focusing on these opinions, including the perceived level of conflict with wild and domestic animals, and support for management actions such as euthanasia, permanent sterilization, chemical reproductive control, adoptions, and holding facilities.

Assessing Socio-Ecological Habitat Suitability for Gray Wolves in Colorado: Integrating Ballot Box Results into Carnivore Restoration Planning
Mark Ditmer, George Wittemyer, Rebecca Niemiec, Stewart Breck, Kevin Crooks

Reintroducing native carnivores risks creating conflict with people and consequently reducing support for coexistence and conservation efforts. Determining the interface between areas of ecological suitability and conflict risk can help guide interventions and enhance success of carnivore restoration, but this is often difficult because accurate data on risks and tolerance are lacking. Gray wolves (Canis lupus), a focus of reintroduction efforts in the US, require tolerance to persist in human-dominated landscapes but also catalyze societal-level conflicts throughout their global range. Colorado voters recently approved a ballot initiative to reintroduce wolves to the state where they had been extirpated ~70 years prior. Here, we used voting records of over three million citizens to quantify and map tolerance of wolves and combined it with spatially explicit data on livestock distributions and land ownership to create predictions of conflict risk. These products were juxtaposed with estimates of wolf ecological suitability developed using seasonal prey population density along with environmental and anthropogenic features that influence wolf habitat use. Our social-ecological modeling approach predicted that ~56% of the West Slope of Colorado contained ecologically suitable habitat and relatively low conflict risk. Our models also delineated possible conflict hotspots where ecological suitability and conflict risk converge, thus enabling targeted proactive management. Additionally, we modeled the precinct-level voting patterns to understand what factors best predicted support for wolf restoration. We found that political affiliation and distance to the conservation action had the largest effect on support for the ballot initiative, but some demographics (e.g., less support among older voters), and aspects associated with livelihood (e.g., less support in areas with more elk hunting and livestock presence) were also influential. Our results demonstrate how voting patterns can provide unique spatially explicit insight on tolerance that can be integrated with other social and ecological information to facilitate carnivore restoration.

Perceptions of Golden Eagle Persecution Through the Eyes of Wildlife Enforcement Officers
Lauren McGough, Kenneth Wallen, Nate Bickford

Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) conservation is affected by several direct and indirect anthropogenic factors. Data from the US Fish and Wildlife Service suggests a declining population in the American West. Additional USFWS data indicates that firearms lead all known causes of golden eagle mortality in the western United States (n = ~700). Wildlife enforcement professionals are often on the front lines of wildlife crime and so it is essential to understand their perceptions and experiences of golden eagle persecution. This study employed semi-structured interview methods, primarily with state and federal wildlife enforcement officers, to gather data on the individual and sociocultural dimensions of human-raptor interactions and golden eagle persecution in the mountain-prairie regions of Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Idaho and Utah. Qualitative data analysis techniques were used to discover core concepts and themes that motivate negative interactions and persecution. Results reveal a multifaceted conservation issue influenced by a range of motivations that include black market trade in animal parts for domestic and foreign consumers, and the historical practices that view eagles as both a predator and varmint, which result in direct human mortality. Wildlife enforcement officers also suggest livestock ranchers, in particular, persecute eagles because they feel few avenues for non-lethal recourse are available to them to deal with depredation. Random shootings of opportunity are associated at the intersection of general social deviance and recreational shooting. This study offers essential contextual insight and first-hand accounts of golden eagle persecution that can inform federal and state remediation efforts and conservation planning.

An Evaluation of the Social Perceptions and Biological Efficacy of Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Avian-Agriculture Conflict
Mallory White, Page Klug

The conflict between blackbirds and sunflower production poses a unique dilemma for the development and implementation of damage mitigation tools. Over the last 50 years, numerous tools have been evaluated with varying efficacy in field settings due to tool constraints over space and time. In large-scale agriculture settings, deterrent tools struggle to mitigate damage because of limited effective distances, habituation, or labor-intensive practices during the busy harvest season. Recently, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have proven to elicit anti-predator responses in blackbirds, but it is unknown whether the private landowners would accept this potentially controversial tool. There has yet to be a simultaneous evaluation of a tool’s biological efficacy and the corresponding social perceptions in blackbird-sunflower conflict research. We administered a survey to sunflower producers in North Dakota and conducted UAS hazing trials in commercial sunflower fields. The objectives were to 1) evaluate the perceptions of farmers in North Dakota toward blackbirds and damage management tools (including UAS); and 2) evaluate the efficacy of UAS hazing (10 min) on blackbird flocks (n=36 actively foraging in sunflower, n= 24 loafing in adjacent cattail). Survey responses (n=858) revealed a willingness to allow UAS operations on private property to haze blackbirds (78%) and to apply an approved avian repellent via a spraying drone (71%). The UAS trials revealed that 58% of flocks abandoned the sunflower field during hazing, 11% did not leave the field, and 31% had partial flock abandonment. Trials conducted in cattails resulted in 42% of the flocks abandoning, 12% not leaving the cattails, and 46% having partial flock abandonment. Nearly all flocks returned to the hazed area within 15 minutes of the trial ending (90%). This comprehensive evaluation of UAS suggests potential acceptance by private landowners, but additional research is necessary to increase its efficacy for blackbird damage management.

Pardus in the Press: Modeling Leopard Attack Occurrence on Humans in Nepal
Shashank Poudel, Angela Fuller, Richard Stedman

In Nepal, human-leopard conflict manifests primarily as livestock depredation and attack on humans, creating an important social, ecological, and management issue. In this study, we estimate the probability of leopard attack occurrence on humans and assess the influence of social and environmental variables on these attacks by analyzing reported cases of attack. The data collected from online news and articles on incidents of leopard attack on humans were used to establish an occupancy model to evaluate the effect of the proportion of vegetation (forest, shrubs, and bushes), livestock density, and human population density on the probability of attack occurrence on humans. We searched news reports from 2015-2019 for leopard attacks on humans in 59 districts across Nepal and generated 72 reports of leopard attacks (49 human injury, 23 human death). The proportion of shrubs and bushes was positively associated with the probability of leopard attack occurrence ψ (SE) = 0.58 (0.12). This could be a result of migration induced land abandonment in the hills which has led to the succession of farmlands to shrubs and bushes, which now offers habitat to wild animals. Leopards using shrub habitat potentially encounter humans collecting fodder and grazing livestock. This study demonstrates how cost-effective data collection coupled with appropriate statistical analysis could generate useful baseline estimates for human-wildlife conflict management. Understanding leopard ecology and human dimension inquiry regarding conflict across different leopard habitat types will be crucial for long-term conservation planning for leopards in Nepal.

Contributed Oral
Location: Virtual Date: November 5, 2021 Time: 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm