Volume 3, Number 40 - December 31, 2003
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Compensation addresses cost, but not cause
A recent study of predator damage compensation in the West indicates that predator compensation is widely viewed as desirable by both livestock producers and the general public.
The study revealed that livestock owners view some losses as expected, but chronic losses, in conjunction with restrictions on the producer's ability to respond to those animals responsible, are not viewed as normal business costs.
Livestock producers, and the public in general, both view predator reintroduction efforts and restrictions on the ability to control problem predators as creating a social responsibility to compensate those negatively impacted by the animals, the study revealed.
The majority of the general public surveyed disagreed with the idea that losses caused by predators are a cost of doing business and should not be compensated. In addition, the study revealed that there appears to be a widespread belief that ranching produces valued societal benefits such as wildlife habitat and open space. Sixty-three percent of the general public surveyed agreed that societal benefits occur from ranching.
The study, entitled, "Political and Social Viability of Predator Compensation Programs in the West," was authored by three University of Montana students: Jessica Montag, Michael Patterson and Bethany Sutton.
While compensation appears to be necessary as a means of distributing the costs of predation more fairly, it is not a solution to the predation problem.
Giving livestock owners the right to kill predators attacking livestock received more widespread endorsement than did compensation, both with the general public and with livestock producers.
The study assessed overall satisfaction with compensation programs in place in the Idaho, Montana and Wyoming region. The State of Wyoming's compensation program pays for losses associated with grizzly bear, black bear and mountain lion depredations. Idaho's program compensates for mountain lion and black bear damages, while the Defenders of Wildlife operates programs for wolf depredations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and for grizzly bears in Idaho and Montana.
The State of Wyoming's compensation program was compared to those in place with the State of Idaho and with Defenders of Wildlife. A majority of the Wyoming applicants to the Wyoming program were satisfied (75 percent); and a larger portion of Defenders program applicants agreed (47 percent) rather than disagreed (26 percent) that they were satisfied with their overall experience.
In contrast, none of the Idaho respondents were satisfied with their experience. Respondents were those who had submitted a compensation claim.
A majority of all respondents (60-88 percent) in all programs were satisfied with the verification process. Sixty-three percent of the applicants to the Wyoming program indicated that the experience had left them with a positive view of the agency and that the experience had increased their support for compensation.
In contrast, less than a quarter of the applicants in the Defenders program expressed those views and none of the participants in the Idaho program expressed those views.
One major issue not addressed by compensation, according to the study, deals with the loss of property rights.
"Many of the interviewees expressed the belief that the current system of predator management does not allow them the ability to take care of problem predators and protect their livestock and that this equates to a loss of private property rights," the study noted. "While this is likely to remain one of the difficult tensions to resolve, compensation programs may have the potential to help build relationships among groups with different views in a way that could help address the concerns associated with this issue."
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