Ranchers' attitudes vary toward programs designed to protect endangered species

Mar 30, 2012
by WLJ

Wildlife does not respect property boundaries. Therefore, protecting endangered species cannot be accomplished on government-owned lands alone. The cooperation and assistance of private landowners is essential. However, some landowners see government biodiversity programs, such as the Endangered Species Act, as a threat to independent management of their property.

The March issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management presents a study of landowners’ attitudes toward a voluntary incentive program. Such incentive programs offer benefits to landowners for managing their properties to support biodiversity, including endangered species.

The study took place in six counties in Texas, inviting landowners to participate in a habitat management program to benefit the blackcapped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler, both endangered songbirds. Cost sharing and other assistance was offered to clear brush and cedars, preserve oak-juniper woodlands, and perform a prescribed burn during the five-year term of the program. Landowners also would gain improved grazing capacity, water conservation, and enhanced wildlife habitat on their lands.

The study focused on what factors determined whether a landowner was likely to agree to the incentive program. How central a role farming and ranching played in the lifestyle of the landowner proved to be important. A traditional rancher could be described as “born to the land”—strongly attached to the land through previous generations of family and as a livelihood. A shorter-term, or “reborn,” landowner may be less likely to engage in agriculture and raise livestock, instead owning land for recreation or aesthetic reasons.

Researchers found a more positive attitude toward enrolling in the incentive program among shorterterm landowners. Social variables such as attitudes, beliefs, and motivations, along with demographic considerations, are often underlying reasons for participation or refusal to participate in voluntary incentive programs for biodiversity. Program administrators who take these variables into account can design programs with broader appeal, recruiting more landowners and protecting more endangered species.

Full text of the article, “Centrality of the Ranching Lifestyle and Attitudes Toward a Voluntary Incentive Program to Protect Endangered Species,” is available at www.srmjournals.org/toc/rama/65/2. — WLJ