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The urbanization of wildlife management: Social science, conflict, and decision making

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Increasing urbanization of rural landscapes has created new challenges for wildlife management. In addition to changes in the physical landscape, urbanization has also produced changes in the socio-cultural landscape. The greater distancing from direct interaction with wildlife in urbanized societies has led to the emergence of a culture whose meanings for wildlife are less grounded in the utilitarian/instrumental orientation of rural agrarian systems. Urban perspectives on wildlife are comprised of more highly individualized emotional/symbolic values. This shift creates two problems with respect to managing wildlife in an urbanizing landscape. First the increased diversity in values and meanings increases the likelihood for social conflicts regarding wildlife management while at the same time making socially acceptable resolutions more intractable. This in turn requires fundamental changes in decision-making paradigms and the research approaches used to inform decision making. Second, as remaining rural communities feel the pressures of urbanization, wildlife conflicts become conflicts not just over wildlife but conflict over larger socio-political concepts such as equity, tradition, private property rights, government control, power, and acceptable forms of knowledge. This paper examines the wildlife management implications of changes associated with increasing urbanization and employs two case studies to illustrate these issues. First a study of a controversy over urban deer management provides insights into how to map conflicting values and search for common ground in an urban culture with increasingly individualistic values for wildlife. Specifically, the analysis illustrates that common ground may, at times, be found even among people with conflicting value systems. The second case study examined a ranching community faced with predator reintroduction. This case study illustrates tensions that occur when the community of interest (i.e. a national public) is broader than the community of place in which the problem occurs. In this latter situation, the debate centers around more than just different views about the rights of animals. It also entailed the rights of individuals and communities to decide their future. The conclusion discusses the need for wildlife institutions to adapt their underlying decision making philosophy including the way science is integrated into decision making processes in light of the changes in social context caused by urbanization.
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Keywords: conflict; decision making; predator control; urbanization; wildlife management

Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Forestry, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA 2: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA 3: U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Publication date: 2003-03-01

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