Using Economic Incentives to Sustain Predators

  • Nature, Animals & Parks
  • 1987

When wolves were first reintroduced to the greater Yellowstone region, Hank Fischer, the regional director of Defenders of Wildlife, set up a meeting with 20 local livestock producers to discuss their concerns over the new presence of predators. “It’s easy to be a wolf lover. It doesn’t cost anything,” stated one rancher. “It’s the people who own livestock who end up paying for wolves.” That got Fischer and his organization thinking, and by 1987 Defenders had devised a wolf compensation fund to pay livestock owners the market value of animals killed by wolves. “It’s not our intent for this restoration to occur at the expense of livestock producers. Our goal is to have wolf supporters take responsibility for the wolf’s indiscretions,” explained Fischer. Over the next 23 years the fund paid out more than $1.4 million for animal losses, using private funds donated for the purpose. Another fund was established to reward ranchers willing to allow wolves to breed on their property. Defenders established a Livestock Producer’s Advisory Council to keep communication open and routinely adapt its programs to changing conditions.

In 1997, Defenders of Wildlife assumed responsibility for a similar program to compensate local residents for losses due to grizzly bears. In 2000, the Bailey Wildlife Foundation make a large contribution that allowed expansion of the wolf and grizzly compensation trusts that had previously been funded through small donations, including creation of a Proactive Carnivore Conservation Fund that helps local landowners avoid wolf and grizzly conflicts in the first place—by buying them electric fencing, for instance. A major project was launched in Idaho to give sheep ranchers tools (like guard dogs, fencing, and range riders) to avoid predator losses in the Sawtooth Wilderness. More than a million dollars of philanthropic money has been spent on these preventive measures. Both the loss-compensation fund and the preventive assistance were later extended to southwestern states when wolves started appearing in that area.

In 2011, the Defenders compensation fund for wolves came to an end after the western states established their own state-wide mechanisms to pay for animal losses to wild predators (which Defenders helped set up and initially fund with donated private money). The nonprofit continues to fund conflict-prevention programs across the West, and it still operates the Grizzly Compensation Trust. In 2010 the organization, along with other charities like the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, launched pilot programs to compensate Floridians who lose animals due to the revival of the Florida panther—which is in the midst of rebounding from as few as 12-20 animals left in the wild to 100-200 today. By taking the economic sting out of predator recovery, these efforts are easing the coexistence of wildlife and nearby residents.

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