Mitigating conflict: A human dimensions analysis of mesopredators and their management
Recent research on species that are both uncommon and unfamiliar to the public has shown that wildlife value theory may not be applicable to the management of all species. This stands in contrast to studies on charismatic megafauna like deer, bear and elk, in which wildlife value orientations could be used to predict the acceptability of various management actions. To further evaluate this phenomena, this study presents the findings of a survey of Indiana residents evaluating 1) the applicability of wildlife value theory to mesopredators, which are common and well known, but not charismatic megafauna, and 2) factors that may be affecting this relationship. To accomplish this, I used a mixed methods approach, including a mail and web-based survey of Indiana residents, and interviews with the public, wildlife control experts, and wildlife biologists. Wildlife value theory can be applied to mesopredators, and is similarly effective to studies relating to charismatic megafauna. Relationships between the acceptability of given management actions (lethal vs. non-lethal) to control wildlife conflict were consistent with prior research on charismatic megafauna for mutualistic and utilitarian value orientations. Utilitarians were the most accepting of lethal measures, while mutualists were the least accepting. Pluralist responses appear to be context dependent; in some scenarios pluralists respond similarly to mutualists, while in others they behave similar to utilitarians. Distanced individuals were inconsistent in their responses in this regard. Regarding overall acceptability of mesopredator control actions, all groups behaved as predicted with mututalists showing the least support for lethal control, utilitarians showing the highest support, and pluralists tending towards an intermediate state between the two. Distanced individuals tended to be more neutral in responses. Acceptability of lethal actions against mesopredators overall was significantly greater than previous studies on charismatic megafauna, between 46%-65% of respondents found lethal action acceptable, depending on the conflict scenario. This suggests that the public perceives mesopredators different, and likely of less value, than charismatic or hunted species. I also evaluated differences in variance in perception among each mesopredator. Between the species assessed (striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), coyote (Canis latrans), raccoon (Procyon lotor), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), badger (Taxidea taxus), river otter (Lontra candensis), lethal action was preferred most often for coyotes, and least often for river otter. Qualitative interviews demonstrated that the high acceptability of lethal action against coyotes was due to a high threat perception. Residents felt that coyotes could uniquely attack and kill pets or young children. Additionally, the species was perceived as more uncontrollable. Control Experts and Biologists expressed that confusion between coyotes and wolves was also causing increased threat perception. This was exacerbated in Indiana, where coyotes are the largest predator and therefore are perceived as the most dangerous. Notably, interview respondents expressed much less fear for foxes, despite similar hunting and feeding habits. Public respondents noted that foxes were perceived as less threatening due to their attractive appearance and rarity. Survey results indicate that the acceptability of lethal action against a given mesopredator species was not correlated with experience of conflict or frequency of viewing that species. Raccoons and skunks caused the most reported damage (47% and 31%, respectively), but lethal action was accepted similarly often to red fox and badger, who each caused less than 1% of damage. Lethal action was favored more often for coyotes, despite causing only 10% of reported damage. Interview respondents indicated they feared interactions with coyotes due to a high-risk perception. In contrast, while conflicts with raccoons and skunks were frustrating, they were minor, avoidable, and viewed as low risk.
Prokopy, Purdue University.
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