Almost all of the world’s 31 largest carnivore species, including gray wolves, grizzly bears, cheetahs and lions, have been impacted by human development and activity. Most of these animals have seen their range and populations decline over the past century, and many are listed as threatened by international conservation groups.

As conservationists and scientists consider if and how to bring back these species in significant numbers across their historical ranges, many potential conflicts arise: Will the animals pose a threat to humans or livestock? Who gets to make the decisions? Who benefits the most from these recovery efforts?

A team of researchers led by the University of Washington is considering these questions through an unconventional lens: justice. The researchers drew upon the field of environmental justice — which primarily has focused on harms to people and public health — and applied its concepts to wildlife management, considering forms of injustice that people, communities and animal groups might experience. Environmental justice, in this context, looks at who is most vulnerable and who could be disproportionally harmed by large carnivore reintroductions.

“We are awakening to the fact that justice matters and is present in a lot of domains, including conservation projects,” said lead author Alex McInturff, an assistant professor in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “We’re hoping this paper is a really timely intervention that gives those involved in these reintroduction projects a framework to say, ‘We care about justice. We didn’t really know we were overlooking it in past efforts, and now we have something that can help inform us going forward.’”

The team published its framework last month in the journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene. UW News spoke with McInturff to find out more about the team’s goals for this work.

Read more at UW News »