Human-Wildlife Conflict Is Rising. “Wildlife Damage Management” Could Help

Biologists say that new management strategies can help mitigate harm to both animals and humans.

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When building construction projects like solar panels, apartments and airplanes, developers must consider how these structures can best serve humans. However, experts argue that there is another population to consider while designing new infrastructure: wildlife. 

While a bird strike is unlikely to crash a plane, the Federal Aviation Administration reports that an average of 47 birds strike aircrafts daily. These strikes are usually deadly for birds and cause around 900 million dollars in damage to American civil and military aircrafts each year. 

However, this is only a small percentage of wildlife impacted by human activity. Colleen Olfenbuttel, the chair of the Wildlife Damage Management Working Group states that increased urbanization has led to a loss of habitat, diseases and the introduction of invasive species in ecosystems.

Wildlife Damage Management (WDM) was created to alleviate this problem. It is the process of mitigating conflicts caused by the presence of animals. WDM seeks to reduce damage to a tolerable level using methods that are cost effective and safe for humans and the environment.

According to the National Wildlife Control Training Program website, WDM experts utilize many non-lethal strategies to reduce wildlife conflicts. These methods include installing fencing, spraying bug repellent, or other ways to exclude wildlife from places they cause damage. In more drastic cases, WDM experts may trap or use chemicals to remove animals from an area. 

Travis DeVault, an associate director for research at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, said that three fourths of aircraft strikes happen in the airport. He says that airport grasslands attract birds and other wildlife who feed in these areas but get hit by moving planes. His colleagues are conducting research to deter wildlife from these areas, asking questions about the type and height of grass wildlife are drawn to. 

“Given the predominance of grassland at airports, you can imagine that it’s really important to know something about how that grassland affects bird communities… that are attracted to those sites,” DeVault says. 

Other scientists are working more broadly to manage invasive species populations and diseases in an area brought about from urban development. Wildlife Ecologist Jon Cepek has worked on projects managing invasive feral swine populations in Ohio and eliminating terrestrial rabies in the U.S. 

“Much of our time should be spent dealing with human behavior,” Cepek says. “In the modern world, where humans have changed everything in wildlife damage management, we need to consider the effects of people on wildlife behavior and wildlife populations.”

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) used WDM to disperse 29.4 million wildlife who were causing damage in urban and rural areas in 2019, including coyotes who kill more than 300,000 livestock annually. 

However, researcher Roger Baldwin writes that while experts have the tools to manage human-wildlife conflict, increasing regulation and changing public opinion limits what can be done. 

In order to implement long-term solutions to wildlife-human conflicts, Cepek emphasizes that, although challenging, WDM experts must sometimes target human behavior. 

“It’s unrealistic to think we can turn back the clock and go back to an Ohio that is once again 85% native forest and a balanced, naturally functioning system,” Cepek says. “[But] if we can help the public become aware of the influence they have on wildlife, they can learn to mitigate negative behaviors on their own and consider behaviors that have a positive effect on human-wildlife coexistence.”

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Iliana Garner


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