UC Berkeley researchers examine cross-boundary wildlife conservation funding

UC Berkeley researchers studied various fundraising methods for cross-boundary wildlife conservation in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. According to Arthur Middleton, study lead researcher, calls for large-scale protection of wildlife have emerged.

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In a wildlife conservation study published Dec. 8, 2020, UC Berkeley researchers found that management and conservation of cross-boundary wildlife activity in national parks are lax.

Researchers investigated several methods of fundraising for cross-boundary wildlife conservation in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The study highlighted how National Park Service funding is often exhausted in meeting the needs of internal park management. Wildlife, however, does not strictly heed the boundaries of national parks. Interactions with communities around and outside of the physical park are inevitable, according to Arthur Middleton, study lead researcher and campus environmental science, policy and management assistant professor.

“Our goal was to think broadly about how to fund cross-boundary observation efforts related to national parks, using the Yellowstone ecosystem as an example,” said Holly Doremus, study co-author and UC Berkeley School of Law environmental regulation professor. “It’s one of the nation’s iconic national parks.”

Doremus added that the researchers chose to study the seminal Yellowstone ecosystem because of its continual cross-boundary activity.

Researchers explored two main methods of funding: entry fees and increasing taxes in zones around the park. The first method would require altering federal legislation dictating that these fees be used only for internal park management, Middleton said.

“With the tax-based approach, there is no federal legislation hurdle, as the tax policy is controlled by the state governments,” Middleton said. “The challenge here is a bit more political in the sense that it’s conceivably harder to keep tax revenue dedicated to conservation because the states have a lot of needs for money.”

Nonetheless, widespread support for wildlife conservation exists, including in Wyoming, the state containing most of Yellowstone, Middleton added.

After connecting with Albert Sommers, the Republican House Majority Floor Leader in the Wyoming House of Representatives, the study co-authors examined the various facets of the project — ecology, ecosystem services and law.

Sommers, a third-generation rancher in the Upper Grand River basin, encounters many migratory wildlife at his ranch. Living near Yellowstone, Sommers told Middleton that the park’s annual five million visitors could play a role in injecting funding into the National Park system.

“The species that are declining in this current biodiversity crisis need big landscapes to persist on,” Middleton said. “Yet, over the last few decades, calls for this large-scale protection have emerged. There’s an unmet funding need in order to deliver conservation at these large scales.”

Bills presented by Sommers have garnered bipartisan support in furthering wildlife conservation around Yellowstone, Middleton added. A similar resolution in Montana, which contains a small portion of the park, would distribute some funding from a park entrance fee to both the state and the Blackfeet Nation.

Middleton and Doremus said they hope this research will have greater policy implications in the United States and in national parks globally. As population densities increase worldwide, wildlife finds itself increasingly threatened by encroachment and human impacts, Doremus added.

“If we want to share our world with these amazing other creatures, we need to know, technically, how to do that; politically, how to do that,” Doremus said. “It takes all of us in political and scientific communities to make sure that happens.”

Contact Katherine Shok at [email protected].