Living With Wolves In The Western Great Lakes
Here at Faunalytics, we’ve noted time and again how the best wildlife conservation policies are those that incorporate the attitudes of local human communities. Conservation policies for wolves are no exception. Many studies explore the attitudes of different populations towards wolves (and we’ve covered some of them). However, research methodologies between these studies are not consistent, so it is difficult to compare the results. Still, it’s possible to see that, at least over the last four decades or so, a majority of the general public in the U.S. holds a positive view of wolves and wolf recovery. That said, individuals who live near wolf packs tend to hold less positive views.
It is important to understand how the public’s views change over time because attitudes are highly polarized and wolf management strategies are continuously evolving. One place where public attitudes have been measured over some time is Wisconsin. In this study, researchers set out to understand how Wisconsin stakeholders would react to a new U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposal to lethally control wolves that attack livestock.
Specifically, the researchers sought a more nuanced understanding of attitudes about wolves and wolf management. They also wanted to “further explore the inclination to kill wolves illegally before and after policy changes that had the potential to affect the wolf population and local stakeholders.” The USFWS’ assumption is that “lethal control of problem wolves will increase tolerance of wolves, thereby reducing the inclination to poach wolves.” The authors employed a mixed methods approach to their study, conducting both before and after surveys and focus groups, which involves interviewing individuals to gain a more nuanced understanding of their attitudes.
The results from surveys and focus groups administered before Wisconsin’s wolf hunting season showed that 71% of respondents indicated they would try to kill a wolf in certain situations even though it is illegal, and 87% of farmers expressed an inclination to kill a wolf illegally. About half of the people who would try to kill a wolf indicated they would do so if the animal “came too close to my home”and “did not run away from me when I was on foot.” Those who said they would not kill a wolf gave reasons such as not wanting to break the law or fear of being fined. Results from surveys and focus groups administered after the wolf hunting season revealed that 73% of respondents had an inclination to kill a wolf illegally (i.e., without a permit or hunting license). Ninety-four percent (94%) of farmers said they would kill a wolf, and again the most frequently chosen situation was when a “wolf approaches my pets or farm animals.”
Overall, 40% of the study participants indicated their tolerance for wolves had increased following implementation of lethal control measures; however, “negative attitudes toward wolves and inclination to kill wolves illegally remained consistent.” For conservationists, the study shows that lethal control programs do not effectively decrease and may actually increase negative attitudes towards wolves. The study also shows that a mixed methods approach provides a more nuanced view of public opinion than a survey alone.