Lessons from the 2019 Living with Wildlife Conference
From Jan. 23 to 25, ranchers and conservationists gathered in Lewistown, Montana, for the 2019 Living with Wildlife Conference, sponsored by the National Geographic Society and organized by American Prairie Reserve (APR). APR is working to create the largest nature reserve in the continental United States and is one of the Society’s conservation partners under the Last Wild Places program, a decadelong initiative working to help protect the places that sustain life on Earth and conserve at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030.
APR has been working for the nearly two decades to secure large landscapes, and has made a lifelong commitment to protect a reserve in the plains of north central Montana, one of the last places on the planet where large-scale conservation of grasslands is still possible. National Geographic’s Last Wild Places initiative is partnering with APR to capture best practices; amplify the scale of their joint efforts; and develop and share tools, technology and training that will greatly increase the impact of the broader conservation sector globally.
The Living with Wildlife Conference focused on Montana and brought together community members to begin building bridges between groups of people who might disagree on how to manage wildlife. The relationship between agricultural producers and wildlife is a complex one in Montana and throughout the West. More and more Americans support increased populations of elk, wolves or bears on public lands, but with that comes challenges for farmers and ranchers who make their living off the land.
Here are a few lessons from some of the more than 40 speakers at the Living with Wildlife Conference:
1. Montana and other Western states could be a laboratory for learning how to live with wildlife, building connections between the scientific community and those who have worked this land for generations.
There are few places more spectacular than this. The rest of the world is watching this iconic landscape with great interest and how we can make it a healthy place for generations to come.
Oftentimes, the conflict voice is what’s heard in the press, but there are so many efforts to proactively figure this out that are not heard…. This isn’t simple, and we really have to work together. I think there’s a great deal of room to recognize the interests we have in common.
2. Technology, including emerging software and statistical tools, can help make the landscapes of Montana safe and productive for both people and wildlife.
Land-use patterns, for example, can predict where conflict “hotspots” may occur, and communities can set up plans to prevent the conflicts before they even happen.
Utilizing existing GPS technology can help cattle producers track livestock and monitor the activity of predators in the area, providing data points for conflict mitigation for the larger community.
3. Continue to bring a variety of community members together with real-world experience to share their successes and challenges in dealing with wildlife conflict. To effectively bridge the divide between ranchers and conservationists, ask all sides to have more empathy when discussing tough topics.
Change is only effective if people feel it is happening for them versus to them.