A big majority of Michigan residents value having wolves in our state. A small minority, though, mostly in the Upper Peninsula, would like to see a wolf hunting season.
Michigan State University did a study to help the state Department of Natural Resources with wolf policy decisions. The DNR manages the wolf population, now that wolves are off the federal endangered species list.
Meredith Gore, an assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife at MSU, conducted the study. She spoke with WKAR’s Gretchen Millich.
MEREDITH GORE: We found that the majority of Michiganders value the existence of wolves, and that hasn’t changed over time. There have been found main public opinion surveys about wolves conducted in the past couple of decades, and all of them have asked different groups of people. This is the study that has asked Michiganders as a whole. So, we can now say, as a whole, 82 per cent of Michiganders value the existence of wolves, and that hasn’t changed. A very small percentage, 14 per cent statewide, said that they would be interested in purchasing a hunting license, if hunting was legal.
GRETCHEN MILLICH: What else did you find in the study?
GORE: One of the things that I think is interesting is that wolves and wolf management, in many places in the country, can be a very polarizing issue. People have very strong attitudes a lot of the time, very extreme attitudes about wolves, love or hate. It was really interesting to find that in Michigan there’s actually so not much disagreement. Even though you might find conflicts or polarizing attitudes in other parts of the country, Michiganders as a whole really are on the same page. That’s a good place to be. Then the question is not how do we reduce conflict, but how do we maintain low levels of conflict that we currently see.
MILLICH: You said that a small minority of people would be interested in hunting wolves. In some cases, that seems to make sense, because in some parts of Michigan, wolves are a nuisance or they prey on farm animals, but are there other reasons why people might want to hunt wolves?
GORE: Your question is sort of two fold. Really, what are some of the reasons why people might want to hunt wolves. It’s the same reason why people might want to hunt maybe any species. There’s recreation, time outdoors, cultural dimension, some people hunt because its family tradition, and other people hunt wolves because they don’t like wolves. Other people may want to hunt wolves because it’s very novel, and there hasn’t been a season to hunt wolves for a very long time. I know from other studies in other states, these are the reasons why people hunt wolves. It’s interesting because, even though there’s a small percentage of Michiganders who said they’d be interested in purchasing a hunting license, the question really is who those people are. This study asked a lot of demographic questions, so we have a very rich understanding now about who these people are: age; gender; race; ethnicity; education level; income level, and region of residence. So, it provides decision makers with a tool to understand who the individuals are behind these opinions. The idea is, depending on whom the individuals are and what their opinions are, managers can deploy different management strategies and different stakeholder techniques to get individuals around the table and make the most effective decisions possible.
MILLICH: So, what happens now? What do you do with this information, and are you going to do more studies?
GORE: The next steps are to probe a little deeper into the results that I think are the most interesting. I mentioned this finding of low conflict among Michiganders, and that provides a really interesting opportunity to look deeper into why there isn’t conflict. One of the things that I’m currently working on, and I just received a grant to look at the conservation ethics of wolf management. So, how do ethics play into decision making about wolves and wolf management. This will be an opportunity to learn a little bit more about different stakeholder groups, their underlying values, what really motivates them to support or oppose different wolf management policies. With that better understanding of public opinion, we can then work with decision makers to more effectively manage wolves.