Challenges of Balancing Stakeholder Engagement and Scientific Decision-making to Inform Wildlife Policy (hosted by TWS)

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.

1:10PM What Keeps Them Coming Back? an Evaluation of Deer Hunters’ Satisfaction and Preferences for Hunting in the North Georgia Mountains
  Jacalyn Rosenberger, Adam Edge, Cheyenne Yates, Gino D’Angelo, B. Bynum Boley, Karl Miller, Charlie Killmaster, Kristina Johannsen, David Osborn
The number of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) hunters on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in the North Georgia Mountains has declined significantly over recent decades. This decrease in hunters poses a threat to the effectiveness of hunting as a management tool and to the availability of funding for conservation in the region. This research aims to provide information on how to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters in North Georgia based on current hunters’ satisfaction and preferences for hunting. We designed a mail-based questionnaire to evaluate hunters’ perceptions and satisfaction of hunting quality, motivations to deer hunt, and their utilization of the WMAs. Questionnaires were mailed in February 2019 to all hunters who registered to hunt on one of eight North Georgia WMAs (>990 km2) over the past three years (n=1,270). We analyzed our results through Importance – Performance Analysis (IPA), which rates various aspects of hunting based on: 1) the importance of key aspects of the hunting experience to hunters, and 2) how hunters perceive the performance of the WMAs in providing those aspects. This approach will help determine how managers can efficiently direct efforts to increase hunter satisfaction, and thus, increase the appeal of hunting on North Georgia WMAs. Results from these surveys will also provide a baseline to assess future changes in hunter satisfaction due to changes in hunting regulations, hunting seasons, and management practices. Full results and analyses from these surveys will be presented.
1:30PM Lessons Learned from a 20-Year Collaborative Study on American Black Bears
  Jon Beckmann
In the 1980s, black bears (Ursus americanus) began expanding into historic habitats in northwestern Nevada. Over a period of 30 plus years, black bears recolonized areas where human populations have also increased. This research represents one of, if not the longest running and earliest comparative studies of a black bear population at wildland-urban interface and wildland areas in North America. As the population increased we observed: 1) increasing human-bear conflicts in areas where several generations of people had lived in total absence of bears (70-80+ years); 2) changes in attitudes by the public towards bears and in the social realm regarding garbage management; and 3) changes in the demographics, behavior, and ecology of this bear population, due to an increasing human footprint on the landscape. Herein, I discuss a few of the lessons learned from this long-term study and the value of a collaborative approach between a state agency, a university and an international conservation organization. Our collaborative approach allowed us to better understand the ecological, demographic and behavioral changes in a large, recolonizing carnivore that is a functional omnivore, often residing at the wildland-urban interface, and to use these data to impact conservation and management decisions that at times were contentious. Partly in response to media coverage of our data-based education efforts three Nevada counties enacted garbage management ordinances, and the Nevada legislature passed a state law prohibiting the feeding of large game mammals. Further, several million dollars in bear resistant garbage containers (BRCs) are now used in the region by the public and government entities. The end result of these conservation measures has been a recolonization of the Great Basin Desert by bears from the Lake Tahoe Basin and Sierra-Nevada Range into portions of Nevada where bears have been absent for over 80 years.
1:50PM Establishing Protected Areas for Fish and Wildlife Conservation: Navigating Social, Economic, and Ecological Conflicts
  Marjorie Liberati, Chadwick Rittenhouse, Jason C. Vokoun
Wildlife practitioners increasingly need to be able to operate in areas that are influenced by anthropogenic land uses, yet many planning and decision-making tools do not give equal consideration to the potential for competing economic and social objectives, nor a path for navigating tradeoffs between multiple objectives. We explored outcomes and tradeoffs for the proposed expansion of a US wildlife refuge in New England, USA, a region characterized by high human population density, development pressure, and property values as well as strong town character. Our objectives were to: (1) determine whether acquisition targets for refuge expansion could be achieved given competing objectives; (2) evaluate tradeoffs between social, economic, and ecological objectives; and (3) evaluate how landscape development influences tradeoffs between objectives. We used genetic algorithms to iteratively generate and evaluate outcomes for protected lands expansion that could systematically navigate tradeoffs between multiple objectives in social-ecological systems. Ecological objectives for the refuge included maximizing total protected and priority habitat for fish and wildlife species, while minimizing distances between protected properties. Refuge staff indicated that economic and social concerns in this region included minimizing acquisition cost, loss of areas under high development pressure, and town character conflict. Ultimately, land acquisition targets for the refuge could be met, though not without economic and social tradeoffs, which were easier to ameliorate in areas with relatively low development. Win-win solutions were available but came at the expense of total area. This multi-objective approach can be integrated with multi-criteria decision making to navigate tradeoffs, increase transparency, and lead to more effective implementation of wildlife conservation plans.
2:10PM Utah Sage-Grouse Local Working Groups: Moving from Conservation Challenge to Conservation Success Via Stakeholder Engagement
  Michel Kohl, Lorien Belton, Terry Messmer, David Dahlgren, Nicki Frey, Rae Ann Hart
During this period of global biodiversity loss, conservation practitioners actively seek out innovative collaborations that enable them to better manage species of conservation concern while still maintaining the socio-economic viability of local communities. Unfortunately, many collaborative efforts fall short of these initial goals raising questions as to why. In this presentation, we provide some potential answers through an evaluation of the Greater sage-grouse community-based conservation efforts. Sage-grouse populations have declined range-wide because of an increased anthropogenic footprint that resulted in the loss of over 50% of the species original sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) habitat. These declines prompted multiple petitions to list the species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Ultimately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined listing the species was not warranted, due in part to the unprecedented efforts of the partnerships known as local working groups (LWGs). These LWGs focused on identifying threats to the species and the development and implementation of science-based proactive measures that simultaneously accounted for stakeholder interests and local economic considerations. In total, over 60 LWG distributed across 11 western USA states and two Canadian provinces were initially formed. We know of no other conservation efforts in which multiple federal, state, and private entities made such a concerted effort to conserve a species across jurisdictional boundaries of this scale. Yet, many of these efforts waned over time – something that has yet to occur in Utah. As a result, we take a closer look at the factors that contributed to the success of Utah’s LWGs. Specifically, we identify how stakeholder engagement contributed to funding acquisition, landscape-scale habitat improvement, and research activities. These efforts recently culminated with the sage-grouse management plans for the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and State of Utah converging toward one cohesive plan despite differing agency objectives and constituents.
2:30PM Removing Feral Swine from Michigan: In the Eye of the Perfect Storm
  Dwayne Etter, Gary Roloff, Karmen Hollis-Etter, Timothy Wilson, Amy Trotter
Initial accounts of feral swine in Michigan began in 2002, and like a building storm reports from many localized areas increased over the following decade. It was suspected that several breeding and hunting facilities purchased Eurasian wild boars (Sus scrofa Linnaeus) from Canada, and escapees were the likely stock for wild pigs in Michigan. By 2010, large sounders were documented regularly and some speculated statewide estimates in the thousands. This drew the attention of government agencies and conservation organizations, and in 2010 an Invasive Species Order (ISO) was issued by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) specifying S. scrofa Linnaeus and their hybrids as an “invasive species” distinct from domestic pig breeds (Sus domesticus). This designation made it illegal to possess a live S. scrofa Linnaeus or hybrid in Michigan. Simultaneously, removal efforts were initiated by USDA-APHIS-WS. Because little was known about wild pig ecology in northern climates, in 2013 a research partnership was developed to focus on ecological damage, understanding movements and habitat use to inform removal efforts, and use of environmental DNA to detect wild pigs in remote areas. The DNR faced multiple legal challenges to the ISO, but in June 2015 the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld DNR’s contention; and prior to this many hunting facilities depopulated effectively cutting off the flow of suspected escapees. Michigan United Conservation Club (MUCC), an organization made up of 200 conservation groups throughout Michigan, was consistently supportive of eliminating feral swine and they initiated a public relations campaign encouraging their members and all conservationists to cooperate with agencies attempting to remove feral swine. Given the unique circumstances, critical timing of events, and collective efforts of government agencies, universities and NGOs, Michigan was able to ride out the storm and is on the verge of eliminating feral swine statewide.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM The Interplay of Politics and Science in Controversial Approaches to Deer-Disease Management.
  David Williams, Chad Stewart
In 2015, Michigan identified its first case of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in free-ranging white tailed deer. Continued surveillance has identified CWD in 9 counties, with prevalence in some counties > 1%. In 2018, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) undertook an extensive stakeholder engagement process to develop scientifically-based recommendations that were supported biologically and socially. This process included working closely with stakeholders, identifying their values, and conversations about the importance of CWD and limiting the impacts of the disease on the deer herd and hunters. The process was well received among stakeholders, however the resultant regulations that were developed were not. Substantial opposition to the omission of one critical regulation, antler point restrictions (APRs), led to a concentrated effort of several stakeholders to have the Natural Resources Commission (NRC), MDNR’s governing body, implement a regulation they believed would improve CWD management. The group of stakeholders supporting this regulation believe it will be well-received by local hunters, increase antlerless harvest, and best manage CWD on the landscape. In response, MDNR worked with scientists at Michigan State University (MSU) and stakeholders in a unique iterative process to evaluate those claims in a region with existing APRs. In 2018 when regulations were approved, the NRC tasked the MDNR with developing research to evaluate the impacts of APRs on deer herd dynamics, and CWD prevalence and spread. MDNR researchers, working collaboratively with MSU researchers, developed an experimental design, and brought that design forward to the NRC in 2019. A decision on the experiment will occur in July 2019. If approved, the joint research project between the MDNR and MSU will serve to highlight either the benefits or perils of following stakeholder developed initiatives. We will discuss the unique interplays of management, science, and stakeholders through the process and share lessons learned.
4:00PM Frustration and Intrigue: Hunter Acceptance of Information Regarding Chronic Wasting Disease
  Bronson Strickland, Kevin Hunt
In February 2018, Mississippi became the 25th US state to find Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in their deer herd. Interaction with hunters during public presentations revealed that management and policy implications of the disease might affect whether hunters accept the importance and consequences of the disease, which creates a challenge for educators and policy makers. Formal and informal interactions with hunters and landowners in Mississippi revealed a wide range of stances on the issue, ranging from deep concern for the herd to misconceptions that the disease is a hoax manufactured by the state wildlife agency. In subsequent months, the state wildlife agency and the Mississippi State University Extension Service developed outreach tools to educate concerned citizens and the hunting public. This presentation addresses possible reasons for the wide-ranging beliefs about the issue and how wildlife professionals can effectively educate hunters on CWD and strategies for its containment.
4:20PM State Wildlife Agency Role in Combining Best Available Science and Stakeholders to Recover the Mexican Wolf
  James Heffelfinger, James deVos
The original Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) Recovery Team, consisting of representatives from Mexico, Arizona, and New Mexico, worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other subject matter experts to write the 1982 binational Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan. Three subsequent recovery teams were unsuccessful in their attempts to revise the original plan to include objective, measurable, and achievable recovery criteria based on best available science. Much of the difficulty in defining recovery criteria was related to the challenge of adequately incorporating stakeholder input and science in a meaningful way so recovery criteria were achievable on working landscapes in the Southwest. Carnivores that conflict with human uses of the land cannot be recovered without full engagement of the affected stakeholders in the process, but including viewpoints from a very diverse spectrum of stakeholders is incredibly challenging. Starting in 2015, USFWS brought together experts from state wildlife agencies, academia, and non-governmental organizations from the U.S. and Mexico in a process to build recovery criteria upon a fresh foundation of updated science derived from recovering wild populations of Mexican wolves and a comprehensive population viability analysis. Science must be the basis of recovery criteria, but the most optimum criteria, crafted with an overabundance of caution, may never result in recovery because they are not realistically achievable on the landscape. Recovery criteria must satisfy the requirements of the Endangered Species Act to recover the species so it is no longer in danger of extinction. The inclusion of state wildlife agencies in this process, as prescribed in Section 6 of the ESA, brought recently available data and information to the table, as well as the collective viewpoints of those who live, work, and recreate on the land.
4:40PM Working with Livestock Operators to Reduce Wolf/Livestock Conflict in the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program
  John Greer
The reintroduction of the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) is one of the most controversial recovery programs of any endangered species in North America. Implementing recovery efforts formed by the best available science is critical to achieving the overarching goal of delisting this endangered subspecies. Recovery efforts must also occur within a framework that strives to build social tolerance of an endangered large predator, capable of impacting the livelihood of livestock operators who live and work in the same areas where the Mexican wolf population continues to increase and expand. The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) has been actively involved with reintroduction and recovery of the Mexican wolf since prior to release of the first eleven wolves from captivity into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in 1998. The AGFD is one of 5 agencies that make up the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team (IFT) that is tasked with carrying out the day-to-day implementation of recovery and management under the 2017 revised Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan and 2015 Final 10(j) Rule. One of the leading priorities of AGFD staff on the IFT is to mitigate impacts to livestock producers through proactive management and information dissemination. Several programs have been developed and proven successful in reducing conflict and increasing tolerance as wolves become more numerous and widespread on this working landscape. These programs require year-round engagement with livestock producers and are largely built upon working relationships established between department personnel and the producers.

Organizers: Gino D’Angelo, David Williams
Supported by: Boone and Crockett Club, University Programs Committee; Early Career Professional Working Group of The Wildlife Society

Location: Reno-Sparks CC Date: October 3, 2019 Time: 1:10 pm - 5:00 pm