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Elk conflict with beef and dairy producers poses wildlife management challenges in northern California

Adam R Hanbury-Brown, Energy and Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley
Jeffery W Stackhouse, University of California Cooperative Extension
Luke T Macaulay, University of Maryland Extension, University of Maryland; Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, University of California, Berkeley


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Large terrestrial wildlife negatively impacts agricultural livelihoods on all continents except Antarctica. There is growing recognition of the need to reconcile these impacts to achieve socially and ecologically sustainable wildlife conservation agendas. Elk populations in northern California are estimated to have doubled in the past 35 years, marking a conservation success, but also increasing forage loss and damage to infrastructure on private land. Wildlife managers are pursuing the goal of increasing elk numbers on public lands, but elk are preferentially utilizing private pasture and rangeland, driving conflict with beef and dairy producers. We conducted 17 semistructured interviews with private landowners, primarily beef and dairy producers, in northern California to understand their experiences and reactions to elk conflict and state wildlife management. Landowners report that elk density on private rangeland has steadily increased in recent years and poses a threat to their businesses due to loss of forage, damage to fences, and the corresponding liability risk posed by breached fences and errant cattle. The absence of crop and forage loss compensation, difficulty obtaining depredation permits, and low harvest quotas for recreational hunting limit landowner mitigation options and foster resentment toward the state wildlife agency. Most landowners believe that current elk management policies, including restricted hunting opportunities, do not adequately address elk conflict, creating novel challenges for wildlife officials tasked with reconciling elk restoration goals with a variety of stakeholders experiencing economic losses and threats to rural livelihoods. We discuss these issues in the context of common wildlife management challenges, such as building social capital, defining tolerable impacts, and building institutional capacity for alternative solutions within rigid regulatory frameworks. We draw upon environmental economics and common-pool resource theory to suggest that a rethinking of elk management based on local conditions, facilitating damage compensation mechanisms while reducing transaction costs, and increasing participation of local stakeholders in decision making might improve outcomes.

Key words

elk conflict; hunting; northern California; pasture depredation; private land; rangeland; wildlife conflict; wildlife management

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087