Wolves, livestock, and the (socio)ecology of fear: a critical geographical re-consideration of a prominent ecological concept

Authors: Robert Anderson*, University of Washington, Jeff Vance Martin, Independent scholar, Katie Epstein, Montana State University, Susan Charnley, U.S. Forest Service
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Biogeography, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: wolves, wildlife ecology, more-than-human geography, human-wildlife conflict
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 2
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Megafauna predators affect prey not only through direct predation but also by inducing changes in behavior and spacing on the landscape, a phenomenon evocatively described by ecologists as the “ecology of fear.” Such cascading effects have been famously observed and celebrated in the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Outside protected areas, however, recovering wolf populations enter landscapes where their ecological effects are altered by the proportionately greater impacts of humans. In working landscapes across the western United States, these impacts include lethal and nonlethal predator control measures aimed at inducing fear in wolves to prevent livestock depredation. Simultaneously, controversy surrounding wolf return is also framed around risk and fear, with wolves perceived as posing material and existential threats to lives and livelihoods.
We interrogate and build upon “ecology of fear” as a boundary concept between critical geography and wildlife ecology. We draw on geographic theory around the more-than-human production of space to consider how predator-prey dynamics in socio-ecological systems are co-produced through multi-directional relations of fear among humans, wolves, and livestock. As social scientists conducting collaborative environmental research with and alongside wildlife managers across the western United States, our methods allow for the reflexive examination of how knowledges about human-wolf-livestock interactions are produced and applied, with potential for immediate use in the field. We thus aim to integrate critical social science analysis with ecological theory and scientific practice, which is essential for understanding the complex challenges of managing wildlife (necessarily including its “human dimensions”) in the Anthropocene.

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