Conservation efforts to restore and/or sustain viable populations of large carnivores often use compensation payments to local residents who experience livestock depredation as a tool to build support and stave off conflict. However, it may be that compensation programs are not effective at this goal, as shown by a recent study looking at wolf depredation compensation efforts in the U.S. and India.
In two geographic regions with similar land use patterns, but with very different historic experiences with wolves and with very different political pressures, implementing compensation programs has done little to change local attitudes toward the species.
Meghna Agarwala and fellow researchers interviewed residents in Solapur district, India, and northern Wisconsin, U.S., about their attitudes toward wolves and toward compensation programs. They also asked about people’s personal experiences with livestock depredation and whether they received compensation for any attacks.
In both cases, whether or not a respondent had experienced depredation had no effect on their attitude toward wolves. For the most part, rural residents in Wisconsin were opposed to wolf recovery programs and tended to view wolf depredations more negatively than losses to other species, despite the fact that wolf losses are a small percentage of total losses to predators.
Residents of Solapur did not view wolves as negatively overall as did Wisconsinites, but their attitudes were similarly unaffected by their participation in the compensation program or their experiences of livestock losses to wolves.
In Wisconsin, the compensation program began as wolves began to recolonize the state after being extirpated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Farmers and hunters in the north were vocal in their opposition to the wolves’ return, while residents from urban areas were equally vocal in supporting efforts to build a stable population. As a result, the compensation program is funded through donations from individuals to a state fund, primarily individuals who support wolf recovery.
Solapur’s compensation fund was one of several established by the state government as part of their wildlife management program. The goal of the programs is to ensure sustainable populations of all the region’s species, and the program was not created in response to any particular outcry by the people.
In Wisconsin, nearly every wolf-related loss is submitted for compensation. In Solapur, the percentage is much smaller. Understanding of the compensation program is very high in Wisconsin, and very low in Solapur. Despite these differences, the impact of the compensation program in both states is the same – an unchanged attitude toward wolves.
Is it worth continuing to make compensation payments at the high rate and large dollar amount currently seen in Wisconsin if the outcome is the same as in Solapur where payments are made at a much lower rate and much smaller amount? Perhaps conservationists concerned with large carnivore survival should consider different, less expensive tools that might have a greater impact on public perception of those species.
--Karren Bassler is a contributing writer based in Madison Wisconsin and a consultant with Superior Nonprofits, LLC.
Agarwala, M., Kumar, S., Treves, A., & Naughton-Treves, L. (2010). Paying for wolves in Solapur, India and Wisconsin, USA: Comparing compensation rules and practice to understand the goals and politics of wolf conservation Biological Conservation DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2010.05.003