Living in Harmony: Exploring Human-Wildlife Coexistence
Our Human-Wildlife Coexistence Webinar Series is dedicated to fostering understanding and collaboration between researchers and the public. In an era where human-wildlife coexistence is both a challenge and an imperative, this series serves as a vital bridge. It unites the scientific community’s expertise with the public’s quest for knowledge, seeking to address the complexities and solutions inherent in sharing our world with diverse species.
3. Learning principles to support use of aversive conditioning to reduce human-wildlife conflict
February 29, 12:00 – 1:00 PM MST
Wildlife managers in protected areas have used aversive conditioning to teach animals to associate unpleasant stimuli (such as chases, noise, or pain) with human-use contexts. Learned wariness to people by wildlife is expected to reduce the risk of human-wildlife conflict and increase opportunities for coexistence. Despite a long history of use for bears and a few other species, general information is lacking for the design, implementation, and success of aversive conditioning programs, which limits their use as well as efficacy. One reason for this knowledge gap could be that wildlife managers typically receive little training in animal behaviour generally and learning theory in particular. In this talk, I identify six learning principles for effective punishment (another name for aversive conditioning) that are well-known to psychologists; evolutionary relevance, immediacy, initial intensity, consistency, unpredictability, and positive reinforcement for alternative behaviours. I illustrate the use, as well as limitations for use, of these principles with field studies from my lab involving black bears (Ursus americanus), elk (Cervus canadensis) and coyotes (Canis latrans) in urban settings and other human-use areas in Western Canada. I highlight the importance of individual variation, also known as personality, in the responses of animals to aversive conditioning and how this attribute could be included in the development of more effective techniques. I conclude by encouraging greater use of community-based conditioning programs to simultaneously refine implementation of these techniques while reducing conflict with wildlife.
Presenter Bio: Colleen Cassady St. Clair is a Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta. She and her students study the way wildlife use and move through human-dominated landscapes, which frequently involve human-wildlife conflict. They seek novel solutions to those problems by combining ideas and methods from animal behaviour, wildlife management, and conservation biology. Recent projects address coexistence between people and coyotes in urban areas, train strikes on grizzly bears, bird mortality at industrial sites, and habituation to people by various species.
For many, badgers remain an elusive grassland mammal known mainly for the big holes they leave behind. Their numerous big holes, or burrows, and associated burrow mounds, can be a concern for those living and working in these landscapes – often resulting their removal. What is lesser known is the essential role badgers play in maintaining the health of native prairie. As an animal that predominately predates on rodents, the badger contributes to regulating populations of species such as ground squirrels, voles and mice. In addition to their role as a keystone grassland predator, badgers create habitat for a diverse array of neighboring species, including over 27 different Species at Risk (i.e., burrowing owls). Digging of burrow networks has many benefits that extend beyond habitat creation such as enhancing vegetative diversity and soil structure, mitigating water infiltration, and improving nutrient cycling. As such, historic declines in badger populations has had a negative impact on the ecosystems in which the badger exists. Finding ways to coexist with badgers will result in many positive benefits to grassland ecosystems and the species that depend on them, both the four-legged and two-legged.
Presenter Bio: Nikki Heim, former President of the ACTWS, is a wildlife ecologist based in Canmore Alberta. Nikki has spent the past two decades focused on better understanding and conserving terrestrial carnivores. Nikki has researched population dynamics of medium to large-sized carnivores, from bears to badgers, and strives to work collaboratively to find applied solutions to improve human-wildlife coexistence.
2. Addressing Human Wildlife Coexistence - A Case Study From the Bow Valley, Alberta, Canada
Human-wildlife coexistence is rapidly emerging as a theme in wildlife conservation. The term “coexistence” refers to a state resulting from a suite of strategies that have successfully balanced the needs of wildlife and humans. These strategies include managing human use in designated wildlife habitats, excluding wildlife from developed areas, and mitigating negative human-wildlife interactions.
Following the 2017 management removal, and the subsequent death, of a well-known grizzly bear frequenting the Bow Valley between Canmore and Banff, a roundtable group was formed to address human-wildlife coexistence issues in the area. A technical working group was also established, and they produced a report in 2018 (available at https://open.alberta.ca/publications/9781460140062) with 28 recommendations for addressing human-wildlife coexistence issues. These recommendations are grouped into six key themes:
Wildlife in Developed Areas;
Food Conditioning and Habituation;
People Compliance; and
In this presentation, we will discuss how the Human-Wildlife Coexistence Roundtable, the Technical Working Group, and the involved agencies and groups are tackling the challenges associated with implementing the recommendations outlined in the report. The work of the Human-Wildlife Coexistence Roundtable serves as a unique example of how agencies and communities can collaboratively identify and address a wide range of challenges associated with achieving human-wildlife coexistence.
Presenter Bio: John is the Human Wildlife Coexistence Team Lead for Alberta Forestry and Parks. He is a biologist with 30+ years experience working mainly with large carnivores like bears, wolves, cougars, coyotes and Amur tigers. Arriving in Canmore in 1992, John has an intimate knowledge of the local conservation successes and failures as the communities in the Bow Valley evolve, increasing the challenges in achieving Human-Wildlife Coexistence.
3. Beavers, the Complicated Neighbour with Extraordinary Abilities
When it comes to beavers, they are either loved or loathed; however, these passions shift depending on the nature of their interactions. As a key driver in wetland biodiversity and surface and groundwater water storage, they are an indispensable part of temperate ecosystems. Beavers are often described as a keystone species because of their broad influence on food webs, and as an ecosystem engineer given their ability to dramatically change their physical environment, in turn creating diverse habitats for many other species. However, their engineering prowess can negatively impact human infrastructure in costly and sometimes dangerous ways. Increasingly, there is an effort to mitigate human-beaver interactions using cost-effective approaches that provide ecological, emotional, and financial solutions.
Presenter Bio: Glynnis Hood is the Vice President of the CSTWS and a professor and ecologist at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose, AB. Her research interests include aquatic ecology, wildlife biology, and human-wildlife interactions. For more than 20 years, Glynnis has integrated her research on beaver ecology with more focused studies of beaver management to enhance human-wildlife coexistence. She is the author of Semi-aquatic mammals: Ecology and Biology and The Beaver Manifesto, and her first children’s book, A Cabin Christmas.
4. Exploring the social stability hypothesis as it relates to human-cougar conflict in Alberta
It is well documented that increasing human populations and incidence, or risk of human-carnivore conflicts are related. Over the past 25 or so years, the human population in Alberta has grown from about 2,820,000 to 4,545,000 people, a 61% increase. During this same period, the range of cougars (Puma concolor) in Alberta has also expanded. We know that cougars can adapt their behaviour to successfully use habitat near human developed areas, but that human perception of risk is variable, and can influence our tolerance for living near them. Low tolerance for cougar occurrence often supports the use of sport hunting to reduce cougar densities, which is assumed will reduce human-cougar conflicts. However, there is a growing body of literature that contradicts the claim that increased cougar harvest reduces conflict with humans.
This emerging theory suggests that an older age structure occurs in cougar populations with low rates of harvest by maintaining both population stability and social structure. Using this management strategy provides sustainable and quality hunting opportunities and, it is suggested, will also minimize the frequency of cougar-human conflicts. In this webinar, we will review some recent literature and 13-years of cougar harvest and conflict data for Alberta to explore the social stability hypothesis.
Presenter Bio: Paul Frame has been the Provincial Carnivore Specialist for Alberta Fish and Wildlife for the past 10 years. In this role he helps manage grizzly and black bears, cougars, and wolves throughout the province. He recently led a 6-year cougar ecology study in the foothills of west central Alberta to help inform the sustainable harvest management of the species. Prior to landing with the Government of Alberta, Paul worked with bears, wolves, and other creatures in several jurisdictions in the western U.S. and Canada, as well as Nunavut.