January 24, 2022 2:51 pm

Coexistence between humans and wolves is possible if rural communities receive greater support

The coexistence between humans and wolves it is possible as long as rural communities receive appropriate aid. This is one of the main conclusions reached by a joint investigation carried out by the universities of Leeds (United Kingdom) and Oviedo. The work, published in the magazine Frontiers in Conservation Science, advocates offering greater support to rural communities to foster harmonious relationships with their neighbors, the wolves.

That new study, in which he has participated José Vicente López-Bao, researcher at the Mixed Institute for Biodiversity Research (University of Oviedo, CSIC, Principado), analyzed three states of coexistence of rural communities with the wolf in Spain: one with a permanent presence of wolves; another where the wolves have recently returned; and a third in which they are expected to arrive in the next decade. The researchers explored the different conditions in which humans and wolves can coexist.

The investigation revealed that ecological, economic and social conditions for coexistence in these communities varied significantly. For example, while livestock guardian dogs (breeds of dogs selected to defend livestock from attacks by wolves, such as the Spanish Mastiff) are perceived to be remarkably efficient in some communities, in others, factors such as topography or tourism made the inhabitants perceive that they were less useful.

The main problems for rural communities are not caused by the wolves themselves, but by economic and social pressures

Research by this team shows the importance of working with these communities to find solutions tailored to their needs, rather than generalized technical and legal solutions. “Understand the particularities that each context requires to implement a damage prevention measure can help us not only to adapt them locally to increase their effectiveness, but also to increase the possibilities of acceptance of their use ”, highlights López-Bao.

The main author, Hanna Pettersson, a PhD researcher at the Leeds Institute for Sustainability Research, spent most of 2020 living in three rural areas of Spain to try to understand the main factors that determine the coexistence between wolves and humans.

Cattle guard dogs working in Sanabria. / Hanna Petter

Pettersson points out that “the main problems for rural communities in areas where wolves and humans share territory in many cases They are not caused by the wolves themselves, but by economic and social pressures that threatened the livelihoods, cultures and autonomy of local communities ”.

“Until now we knew a lot about the factors that lead to dysfunctional relationships between the two species, but much less about those factors that promote functional coexistence,” adds Pettersson, referring to the novelty of this research.

The authors of the work indicate that today, thanks to multiple factors such as conservation laws and the abandonment of rural areas, we are seeing the return and expansion of large carnivores, like wolves, by many types of landscapes throughout Europe. “In recent years, there are records of the presence of the species in all the Member States of the European Union in continental Europe,” says López-Bao.

We are seeing the return and expansion of large carnivores, such as wolves, across many types of landscapes across Europe.

“This is a hopeful sign for the global nature recovery movement, which is a crucial part of tackling the ongoing climate and biodiversity crises, ”says Hanna Pettersson.

“However, to ensure that this movement is fair and sustainable, it is important that we work proactively in the communities that will share space with these large predators. In some cases, they can generate economic benefits through ecotourism and can provide a natural regulation of ecosystems, for example, by keeping the number of herbivores under control ”, he adds.

“A lot of effort has been invested in assessing the negative aspects of coexistence. However, an increased focus of attention on potential benefits of the presence of these species it can have a positive impact on the tolerance to coexist with these species ”comments López-Bao.

The researcher comments that wolves are beautiful creatures admired by many, but they also cause problems to traditional farming communities, many of which are already vulnerable due to unfavorable market conditions and social marginalization.

The survival of these communities is crucial to maintaining their rich cultural heritage and sustainable food production practices.

“The survival of these communities is crucial to maintaining their rich cultural heritage and sustainable food production practices, and therefore we must ensure that the right conditions are created for them to survive in the future. The Wolves are returning to places where they have been absent for decades, sometimes centuries, and the coadaptation processes with this species have been lost. The key challenge we face is to prepare and support the communities so that they can adapt and prosper, thanks to their return or, sometimes, despite them ”, indicates the researcher.

Traditional methods of living with wolves

Traditional livestock practices, such as the use of mastiff dogs, are still prevalent in some parts of Spain, where herders graze their cattle in wide geographic areas. Some communities, such as the Sierra de La Culebra (Zamora), have lived alongside wolves for generations and have adopted various successful methods to coexist with the species. For example, they protect their animals by locking them up overnight, accompanying them on foot during the day, and keeping livestock guard dogs with their herds at all times.

But these methods are labor-intensive and expensive, particularly for small farmers whose economic margins are often very narrow, so it is important to support the implementation of these measures, as it involves a extra effort and higher production cost, in areas of presence of the species.

If we do not recognize and support these communities, it will be almost impossible for them to pass on their lifestyle to future generations and we will lose the knowledge and skills of those who have lived successfully alongside the wolves.

“Rural communities have been left, at best, with bureaucratically cumbersome and inefficient compensation payments, if they can prove that their animal was preyed upon by a wolf, which is sometimes impossible,” highlights the co-author of the work.

Guardian dogs in Asturias.  / Hanna Petter

Guardian dogs in Asturias. / Hanna Petter

Pettersson adds, “If we do not recognize and support these communities, it will be almost impossible for them to pass on their lifestyle to future generations and we will lose the knowledge and skills of those who have lived successfully alongside wolves. Without support, farmers who live with this species will always be worse off than those who live in areas without wolves, and that sends the wrong signal. We need convivial communities to prosper, that they set a positive example and illustrate to those who anticipate the return of the wolves that it is possible to live with them ”.

“In Europe, all livestock farmers, whether or not they are beneficiaries of the aid included in the common agricultural policy, have to adhere to a series of minimum legal management requirements, which include, among other things, the conservation of fauna and habitats, or animal welfare; and in the case of the common agricultural policy they are part of the aid conditionality. Within the new structure of the common agricultural policy, mechanisms should be articulated to introduce complements associated with coexistence with large carnivores, or lines destined to favor the coexistence between extensive livestock farming and the conservation of large carnivores, for example, through of eco-schemes ”, highlights López-Bao.

In Europe, all farmers, whether or not they are beneficiaries of the aid included in the common agricultural policy, have to adhere to a series of minimum legal management requirements

The research identifies examples of successful new approaches to support local communities and coexistence. On AsturiasFor example, the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture has launched the Pro-Biodiversity brand in the Picos de Europa since 2011, a certification scheme that ensures an improvement in the net benefit for the sheep meat producer in herds managed in a traditional way within Red Natura 2000 spaces.

The producers adhering to this brand undertake, among other things, to respect the coexistence with the fauna and obtain, in exchange, flexibility and funds to guarantee its compliance, taking into account their local characteristics. This initiative provides producers public recognition of its environmental services in the stores and restaurants where its meat is sold.

Reference-www.agenciasinc.es

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