An anonymous donor recently committed $1 million to support Colorado State University’s Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence, advancing its mission to minimize conflict between humans and carnivores – including wolves, bears, mountain lions, and other predators – integrating research, education, and outreach.
“With such support, we can strengthen our efforts to ensure that humans and carnivores can share landscapes with fewer impacts to both,” said Kevin Crooks, the center’s director and professor of fish, wildlife and conservation biology at CSU.
As a Colorado ranch owner supporting a livestock operation, the donor is committed to earning a living on the land while also preserving its wildness for future generations to experience. That commitment drove the investment in the center’s efforts to develop science-based insights and real-world solutions to promote human-carnivore coexistence.
“Although predators play a critical role in maintaining the ecological balance our world depends on, I have come to realize that top carnivores will not exist unless humans allow them,” said the donor. “As someone who believes in science and ecological balance, I understand that humans will choose profit over balance unless they learn how to achieve both.”
The center, housed in CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources, will receive the contribution in $200,000 increments over five years to support and sustain its research, strategic outreach, and education while expanding capacity for future programming and engagement.
“We are grateful to all our donors and grateful too for the scope and breadth of their interests,” said CSU President Joyce McConnell. “Thanks to donors like this one, we can support diverse initiatives, programs, and centers that benefit our state and help us fulfill our land-grant mission.”
Kim Tobin, CSU’s vice president for University Advancement, echoed McConnell’s appreciation.
“The spirit of philanthropy is alive and well at CSU, and support from involved donors is what makes crucial educational progress possible,” said Tobin. “We are grateful for this remarkable investment in the future of CSU’s Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence and our community.”
Collaborating to benefit people and predators
The donor’s initial gift in 2020 supported the center’s community engagement and education efforts leading up to Colorado’s then-proposed wolf reintroduction initiative: Proposition 114. The initiative, which directs wildlife managers to restore gray wolves on public lands in Colorado’s Western Slope by the end of 2023, garnered just enough support from state voters to pass, with 50.4% in favor.
“My desire was to support the dissemination of good science, facts, and information from a respected institution so the public could vote with informed, unbiased messaging,” the donor said.
Witnessing the center’s successful delivery of science-based research, outreach, and education in 2020 – including engagements with K-12 students and residents throughout the state – the donor was motivated to support the center’s continued growth and impact by committing to a larger, multi-year contribution.
Crooks sees the center as a hub for research and collaboration, where partners from CSU, other academic institutions, NGOs, and federal, state, and local agencies can share knowledge and resources to improve the lives of both people and predators.
The center also provides education and mentoring opportunities for university students and the campus community focused on the science and practice of human-carnivore coexistence.
In 2020, the center teamed up with CSU Extension and the CSU Center for Collaborative Conservation to launch the People and Predator Series – a collection of publicly accessible information sheets and FAQs designed to guide and inform public discourse and policies related to human-carnivore relationships. The first installment provided objective information related to the history, ecology, policy, public perception, and potential impacts of wolves in Colorado; future installments will focus on similar topics related to bears, mountain lions, and other carnivores.
Debunking myths, minimizing conflict
Educating the general public on human-carnivore coexistence is one of the center’s top priorities, as many still associate wolves in the wild with such fabled characters as the ravenous Big Bad Wolf.
“There is a lot of misinformation, and sometimes mythology, about wolves and other carnivores,” said Crooks, noting that common myths and misconceptions can contribute to direct conflict between people and predators, as well as social conflict among people about carnivores.
The center’s team addresses and debunks misinformation by grounding its outreach in ecological and social science research. It also helps convene diverse groups of people to develop collaborative approaches to conflict reduction and mitigation.
“Conflicts between humans and carnivores are just as much about people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviors as they are about carnivores, which is why work across disciplines is critical,” said social scientist and conservation psychologist Rebecca Niemiec, who serves as the center’s co-director and assistant professor of human dimensions of natural resources in the Warner College.
Transforming research into action
“As a land-grant institution, CSU has a unique role to apply science and knowledge to benefit society and to be a trusted, neutral broker of information,” Crooks said. He added that the center’s success is gauged by the degree to which its research – disseminated among stakeholders, policymakers, educators, and the public – is transformed into actions that foster and support coexistence among communities and carnivores.
A portion of the donor’s funds will allow the center to increase its overall capacity for impact by hiring additional staff, including graduate and undergraduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and a project manager. The funds also will enable additional engagement opportunities for CSU faculty and external partners.
“The Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence has a talented team that brings solid science, relevant education, and key stakeholders to the table to listen, learn and explore viable solutions globally,” said the donor. “Starting here in Colorado, I believe it is time to collaborate on human-carnivore solutions – and this team can inspire and inform these conversations.”