2017 Jackson Hole Wildlife Symposium

NRCC Hosts Successful Jackson Hole Wildlife Symposium

Posted on  by NRCC

Human-Wildlife Coexistence in Jackson Hole & Beyond: Integrating Science, Education & Conservation

The sixth Jackson Hole Wildlife Symposium was held on March 10, 2017 at the beautiful Jackson Center for the Arts. The symposium featured diverse, innovative, and provocative ideas about how we can improve human-wildlife coexistence. NRCC’s Peyton Curlee Griffin, Richard Wallace, and Susan Clark kicked off the conference with an exploration of the symposium’s “coexistence” theme and the useful challenges it represents to our common understanding of human-wildlife conflict. They laid out ways to improve our relationships with wildlife and the environment. The symposium’s primary goal was to foster thoughtful discussion of the need to reframe our work, perspectives, and actions on the relationship of humans and wildlife. This reframing and grounding seeks to shift us from an emphasis on reactive conflict management to forward-thinking practical strategies for shared reliance on the resources and landscape (i.e., coexistence) in Jackson Hole and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). This shift is necessary to ensure the conservation in perpetuity of the region’s vast and unique ecological heritage. Many challenges lie ahead.

Bozeman-based journalist Todd Wilkinson followed the opening session with a staggering look at development trends in the GYE juxtaposed against the need to sustain wildlife habitat and greater ecological integrity throughout the region. Indy Burke, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, continued by cautioning that there may be a point at which the ecology of the ecosystem is irrevocably harmed and it will not be possible to repair damage done to species and ecosystem processes. A panel featuring Burke, Clark, and Wallace closed out the morning by further examining and responding to questions about the need to broaden strategies and perspectives about science, education, and values and their role in conservation problem solving. Each offered a practical way forward to address challenges.

Eleven researchers working on GYE-related issues presented posters during the lunch hour.

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Jim Lyons began the afternoon portion of the symposium with encouragement about what is possible through large-scale, coordinated conservation planning of the sort that has been undertaken for the greater sage grouse. Ecological resilience scholar Gary Kofinas continued the afternoon panel with ideas about how to integrate traditional knowledge systems and a range of social-ecological values, as he has done in his work with Arctic and Subarctic communities. He invited the Jackson Hole conservation community to join him in carrying out a scenarios project to more accurately model where the valley is headed and how to choose a future that supports commonly held community values. Michael Whitfield described his work in the High Divide ecosystem where conservationists and ranchers are working together to preserve wildlife, open space, and traditional land uses. Planner and NRCC Research Associate Tim Terway closed the session with an overview of perspectives and strategies at play in GYE conservation. These included an overview of how macro conditioning factors across biophysical, political, financial, and philosophical domains pan out in conservation pressures experienced locally in the GYE. He summarized with a plea to expand the frame of what is typically considered within the confines of “human-wildlife coexistence,” introducing one potential alternative to decouple Teton County from the pressures of such factors through the creation of a regional complimentary currency designed to aid conservation institutions.

Twenty-one local and regional researchers and conservationists gave “quick talks” in the afternoon on topics ranging from reducing the impacts of roads on wildlife and managing invasive species to long-term changes in the raptor community. Presenters answered questions and moderators Corinna Riginos, Aly Courtemanch, and Gary Kofinas facilitated group discussions across the different studies to draw lessons about understanding and advancing human-wildlife coexistence in the region.

A highlight of the social hour was the presentation of the Craighead Conservation Award to Panthera’s Mark Elbroch and the Raynes Citizen Conservation Award to Jackson Hole conservation leaders Frances Clark and Bernie McHugh.

All day, attendees had the pleasure of viewing displays of photographs by NRCC’s Photographer-in-Residence R.J. Walter and paintings to be included in a forthcoming book by NRCC Artist-in-Residence Katie Holsinger.

The evening featured a keynote presentation by National Geographic Society Explorer Gao Yufang, also an NRCC Research Associate, who spoke about his extensive work on three cases of integrative conservation on the Tibetan Plateau, a region with similarities to the GYE’s ecological and human-wildlife conflicts. Gao’s cases included human-bear conflict in Changtang National Nature Reserve, conflicts between livestock and predators (including snow leopards, wolves, and lynx) in Qomolangma National Nature Preserve, and the role of religious and cultural values in conservation in the Sanjianyuan National Nature Preserve. Gao’s three cases illustrated perfectly the vast array of values at play in conservation and underscored the need for a reframing from a reactive focus on conflict mitigation to a forward-looking focus on human-wildlife coexistence.

The symposium was well attended; interaction and discussion was lively; and plans are in the works to further advance the coexistence theme in practice and policy. Stay tuned!