New paper on predator-friendly beef and coexistence with wolves

New paper on predator-friendly beef and coexistence with wolves

Conservation Northwest / Apr 16, 2020 / Ranching, Wolves

Carol Bogezi, a UW researcher and Conservation Northwest Board Member, published a study on the feasibility of predator-friendly beef to promote wolf recovery.

By Keiko Betcher, Communications and Outreach Associate

As wolves continue to recover in Washington state, we’re working to promote coexistence and societal acceptance between these carnivores and people. Our goal is to minimize conflict by promoting maximum conflict deterrence methods, both on the ground and at the policy level. So we’re proud one of our Board Members, Carol Bogezi, from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington, recently published a study on an innovative approach to promoting coexistence with wolves: predator-friendly beef.

Carol Bogezi, one of our Board Members. Hear more from Carol in our 30th Anniversary video!

View the full paper as a PDF, or the abstract at the bottom of this page.

The paper, published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, defines predator-friendly beef as “a certification that would be given to beef produced by ranchers who did not lethally remove wolves from their ranch.” Bogezi, whose interest in carnivore coexistence began as a child on her parents’ farm in Uganda where conflict with wildlife often occurred, conducted this study as a part of her Ph.D. at the University of Washington on the interactions between people and carnivores in Washington.

“This study sought to try and answer the economic feasibility of wolf recovery,” Bogezi said. “Would people in proximity to wolves be able to realize an economic benefit to coexistence? Predator-friendly beef was a good example to study this question.”

To gather her data, Bogezi conducted a series of interviews with ranchers, wildlife agency staff, employees at environmental organizations, workers in the beef industry, and politicians. By having face-to-face conversations, Bogezi and her research team explored perspectives on the feasibility of predator-friendly beef as an economic driver and tool for coexistence.

Ultimately, ranchers were open to the idea and other stakeholders expressed interest. However, economic and societal factors related to beef processing logistics, consumer demand, and acceptance among peers were identified as constraints to a viable predator-friendly beef market.

Bogezi’s main takeaways have implications for wolf coexistence as a whole. One big finding from the study was the importance of letting the ranching community name the product. Calling something “wolf-friendly” beef may be attractive to conservationists and urban markets, but it can be an ostracizing term for ranchers.

A rancher checking on cattle within the range of the Smackout Wolf Pack in northeast Washington. Photo: CNW

Another takeaway was the potential for predator-friendly beef to serve as a tool for outreach about ranchers’ efforts for coexistence. While initially thinking ranchers would be open to the idea as an economic incentive, Bogezi found their interest came from other reasons.

“Ranchers were more interested in the idea as an outreach avenue for them to communicate to non-ranchers that they can and are doing something about predator coexistence,” Bogezi said. “It’s more about identity and public acceptance, rather than economic gain.”

Additionally, her conversations with different stakeholders revealed varying attitudes towards the idea of predator-friendly beef.

“It was interesting to see a ‘collective voice’ take prominence when talking to politicians who represent Eastern Washington.” Bogezi said. “They were less willing to implement or support the idea of predator-friendly beef—less likely than the ranchers themselves.”

“A lot of individual ranchers don’t feel as extreme as the media puts them out to be,” Bogezi said. “They don’t want to be ostracized. Most I talked to agreed that they don’t care for wolves, but they care for their livestock. And they won’t shoot wolves, and have no problems with wolves, as long as they’re not interfering with their cattle.”

As for Conservation Northwest’s efforts for wolf recovery, Bogezi’s study reaffirms the importance of on-the-ground, community collaboration in rural communities to work toward successful coexistence. Citing the Northeast Washington Wolf Cattle Collaborative, administered by our Wolf Program Lead Jay Shepherd, Ph.D., as an example, Bogezi says recognizing the nuances around societal incentives of wolf conservation is a strong approach to a healthy future for wolves, wildlife and people.

“Conservation Northwest understands that wolf recovery is not an ecological problem,” Bogezi said. “Its barriers are societal.”

Abstract from Frontiers in Ecology and Revolution

Real and perceived economic losses are key factors driving negative attitudes and lack of tolerance toward carnivores. Alleviating economic losses through compensation and market-based strategies is one tool for addressing negative human-carnivore interactions. Despite general support among the public for market-based economic incentives to improve coexistence with predators, products marketed as “predator-friendly” are rare in mainstream markets. We explored stakeholders’ perspectives on certification of predator-friendly beef as a market-based economic incentive to enable ranchers to better coexist with gray wolves (Canis lupus) in Washington State, USA.

A gray wolf in north-central Washington. Photo: Craig Monnette, used with permission. All Rights Reserved.

We conducted semi-structured interviews (N = 104) and explored narratives using grounded theory to understand the perspectives of stakeholders involved in the cattle-wolf relationship, including ranchers, wildlife agency personnel, environmental non-government organization employees, beef industry workers, and politicians. Both economic and social factors motivated and constrained ranchers to participate in a program creating a predator-friendly beef label.

Ranchers largely perceived marketing their products as predator-friendly to be more of a public outreach opportunity than a new source of income. Most stakeholders perceived an economic opportunity for predator-friendly beef facilitated by existing pro-environmental markets and existence of a private beef processing plant. Based on these results, we propose a design for effectively implementing a predator-friendly beef market.

We recommend focusing on the type and objective of the rancher, ensuring local access to beef processing facilities to process small volumes of custom beef, developing a product brand that is favored by ranchers and beef processors, considering viable product pricing, and developing a regulatory process for a potential predator-friendly beef label on the mainstream market.

A range rider at work in northeast Washington. Photo: Chase Gunnell, Conservation Northwest