BOZEMAN, MT. (September 19, 2016) –A new paper released by WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), National Park Service and Cornell University provides a method for integrating human perspectives into finding pathways for wildlife moving through privately-owned lands.

These pathways, or “corridors,” are used by animals as they travel to and from protected areas in an effort to find mates, sources of food, and more. The corridors are often selected by conservation planners based on available natural resources.

The authors note, however, that little work has been done to understand the attitudes of people sharing large landscapes with carnivores, and that corridors can only be successful if people are empowered and have the tools for coexisting with wildlife.

The new method employs surveys of landowners to gauge attitudes towards interactions with wildlife. This data is then mapped to determine the social “risk” or “opportunity” associated with the potential wildlife corridors. Interventions can then be tailored to meet the needs of landowners located within an area important for wildlife movement.

“This method integrates social information and spatial data in considering options for engaging private landowners,” said lead author, Andra Bontrager. “The landowner component is critical if we are to achieve successful on-the-ground conservation.”

Using the surveys, the scientists collected demographic information and assessed landowner perceptions of carnivores in the three communities of Big Sky, MT (resort community), Big Hole, MT (agricultural community) and Island Park, ID (recreation based community).

The researchers asked landowners about the presence and type of wildlife on their land; the nature of their interactions with wildlife; whether the interactions were positive or negative; and their attitudes toward potential land management strategies for addressing wildlife on their land.

Based on the responses, individual parcels were assigned a value representing the landowner’s combined scores and the parcel’s significance with regard to opportunities or risk for wildlife.

Results indicated that of the four carnivores reported in all regions, black bears were the most frequently observed species on private lands (58 percent), followed by gray wolf (29 percent), grizzly bears (14 percent) and wolverine (7 percent).

Respondents were generally in favor of conservation opportunities, a trend supported by an acceptance of land management tools such as: ordinances on outdoor trash, tax incentives for wildlife conservation and riparian setbacks that provide a financial benefit.

However, the method also identified degrees of risk in areas based upon past negative interactions between landowners and carnivores. With this knowledge, practitioners can determine under a certain set of conditions, the most appropriate conservation action to use with a given landowner or community.

Dr. Heidi Kretser, Deputy Director of WCS Conservation and Communities Program, and co-author on the study said, “Private lands are vitally important components to large landscape conservation but conservation on private lands will succeed only with willing landowners and communities.  This tool provides one possible way to explicitly consider attitudes of landowners in designing longer-term conservation interventions to achieve wildlife mobility across private lands.” 

“Conservation opportunity and risk mapping for carnivores using landowner survey data from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” appears in The Professional Geographer. Co-authors include: Andra Bontrager and Heidi Kretser of WCS; Kirsten Long of National Park Service; and Nancy Connelly of Cornell University.

This research was supported by the Brainerd Foundation and the National Park Service.

 To see a copy of the article, please click here.