Sen. Tom Carper gave the opening statement at the July 24 U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, “Theodore Roosevelt Genius Prize: Innovative Solutions to Reduce Human-Predator Conflict.”

“Although we certainly don’t have many top predators in the First State, like so many Americans, Delawareans are fascinated by them,” said Carper. “In fact, a couple of years ago, one enterprising Delawarean mounted a 110-pound fiberglass shark to his dune buggy in honor of a white shark named Hilton that was tracked off Delaware’s coast in 2017. And while that dune buggy has driven thousands of miles, Hilton has swam thousands more, from South Carolina to Nova Scotia.”

“As the immense popularity of Shark Week demonstrates, millions of Americans are enthralled with these creatures — and with good reason,” said Carper. “Predators, such as bears and sharks, really do play uniquely significant roles in their ecosystems. These animals control entire food chains, indirectly influencing everything from the spread of invasive species to carbon sequestration. They sustain healthy populations of commercially and recreationally important fish and game species, and even help to enhance plant diversity. Many predators are also important for ecotourism.”

“However, as humans continue to encroach upon wildlife habitat and compete with predators for the same space and natural resources, our relationship with these animals can become adversarial,” said Carper. “What’s more, human-predator interactions are increasingly common as more people recreate in wildlife habitat. More than 300 million people visit our National Parks each year, and our coasts are more popular than ever for surfing, swimming, boating and fishing.”

“Human-predator interactions can impact predators and humans alike,” said Carper. “Humans have a history of culling entire predator populations due to conflicts, which has negative effects on ecosystems. Predators can threaten our recreational opportunities, food and economic security and, in rare but serious cases, cause human injury or loss of life. Just last fall, two grizzly bears killed a hunting guide in Wyoming. A short while later, a young man tragically lost his life after an encounter with a great white shark in Cape Cod.”

“Although such tragic outcomes are exceedingly rare, they do happen,” said Carper. “As a result, we should consider how human-predator conflicts may evolve over time. As the range of some prey species shifts in response to climate change, and some species cease to exist entirely, predators may be forced to move to new areas to follow their prey or find new food sources.”

“This begs several questions: What can we do to meaningfully address human-predator conflicts?” said Carper. “How can we protect predators and preserve the important role they play in the environment while minimizing harmful human-predator interactions? I like to say that there are no silver bullets, but there are a lot of silver BBs. Such is the case here. One approach is the legislation before us today, which will support innovative, nonlethal technologies to study, monitor and manage predators.”

“Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your commitment to innovation in technology, and I am pleased to support you in this legislative effort,” said Carper. “That said, I also want to highlight the importance of engaging citizens productively in addressing these conflicts. We need to make sure that good science and data can be used by wildlife managers and decision makers when managing predators, and the public, who care about these animals, must have the opportunity — formally or informally — to collaborate with scientists and managers on solutions.”

“Finally, Democrats on this committee have proposed a number of bills to address habitat loss, wildlife conservation and climate change — all of which affect predators,” said Carper. “Many of these bills are bipartisan and non-controversial. I hope this committee will work soon to advance some of those legislative solutions, as well.”

“Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today,” said Carper. “I look forward to working together to advance this bill, along with other wildlife priorities.”