UW News

September 12, 2016

UW forestry student wins Bullitt Foundation’s top prize for wildlife conservation

UW News

When graduate student Carol Bogezi heard that Washington has big carnivores, she was sold. Bogezi, who grew up in Uganda and began her doctoral degree several years ago at the UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, was excited to track and tag cougars and investigate how the recent return of wolves affects ranchers.

Carol Bogezi during fieldwork in the Cascades.

Bogezi doing fieldwork in the Cascades.Carol Bogezi

Her graduate school research and resiliency in overcoming obstacles has caught the attention of the Bullitt Foundation, a Seattle-based organization that seeks to promote responsible human activities and sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest.

Bogezi is the winner of the 10th annual Bullitt Environmental Prize, which recognizes people with exceptional potential to become powerful leaders in the environmental movement. Bogezi will accept the award today and receive $100,000 over two years to continue her work in wildlife conservation.

UW Today sat down with Bogezi to learn more about her research.

Q: What brought you to the UW?

CB: I came to the UW for graduate studies. Prior to that, I was working for a wildlife conservation organization in Uganda, focusing on communities experiencing human-wildlife conflict. The UW was a good fit to do my doctorate. I really liked my professors’ work and the approaches they were using in resource allocation and resource management work. I said, that sounds like something I need for the elephant work I want to do back home.

Bogezi captures a crocodile during one of her research projects in Uganda.

Bogezi captures a crocodile during one of her research projects in Uganda.Carol Bogezi

Q: What inspired you in Uganda to study human-wildlife conflicts?

CB: I started working in Uganda with a wildlife conservation society two years after a 20-year war in northern Uganda ended. During the war, people moved away from villages and went to internally displaced people’s camps. Their villages became wild again. Before people had settled back in after the war, elephant corridors connected all the way from South Sudan to western Uganda. There was this blank slate — people were returning and there was human-wildlife conflict, but it was an opportunity to start again and have better land-use planning so people could avoid areas that are traditional elephant corridors. I wanted to continue looking at alternative livelihoods, land-use planning and connectivity for wildlife.

Q: What is your focus at UW?

CB: With cougars, I’m looking at their movement and seeing how landscape connectivity is important. That helps me answer the question of whether movement of cougars in exurban spaces is influencing human-cougar conflict in those areas. The wolf work has been the bigger project of the two. I’ve interviewed a lot of stakeholders including ranchers, hunters, people from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, politicians and NGOs on what they think about the return of wolves to Washington. It is new for me doing human dimensions work and using concepts from environmental psychology, but it is great.

Q: What are your research goals?

CB: I want to answer two questions — what are the perceptions about the return of wolves, and would economic incentives help increase the coexistence of wolves and livestock producers? My aim was to find incentives that would make wolves a beneficial asset to have on a rancher’s property rather than a cost. I am looking at things like agro-tourism or having a premium price for ranch products that have wolves on the landscape. Having wolves could be a benefit that brings people who are interested in seeing wolf habitat onto a rancher’s property.

Q: What did you learn from the ranchers?

CB: They said it depends on the market, and they wondered why people pay to come to their land to see wolves when they can go to, say, Yellowstone to see wolves? That helped me realize success of economic incentives depends a lot on the users, so I’m developing a survey to find out whether the Washington public would pay for opportunities to see wolves or wolf habitat near ranches, or pay a premium price for “wolf-friendly” ranch products on the market.

Q: Talk about the interview process.

CB: It was great and really wonderful to see the countryside of Washington. I was doing interviews that required me to find ranchers where they work. It was interesting because the ranchers thought I was coming from the west side of the state to tell them what to do. It helped that I was a student from out of state. Overall, ranchers were interested in telling me how life is because they knew I was a student and an objective scientist.

Q: What’s next for you?

CB: The short-term goal is to finish my Ph.D. I also hope to work with the university and the Department of Fish and Wildlife or NGOs to see exactly how we can apply results that we have found work for ranchers to the ranchers in Washington state. I want to be able to say, academia is not just filling up library shelves, we want these results to be applied. If we involve people, we can actually realize conservation goals. Then, I’d like to go back home to the project I worked with in northern Uganda, applying what I did here in Washington.

Q: What will that look like in Uganda?

CB: In those areas, elephants are the big keystone species. They definitely change the landscape when moving through, but ecosystems are healthier because of their presence. Elephants move along the same corridors every year, but not all of these areas are protected. If you don’t protect their space, they will be gone. I want to look at making these tourism-designated areas. They will be conservation areas, but they need to be profitable and beneficial for people so elephants aren’t only a cost to them.