Most Washington residents disagree with shooting wolves that kill livestock, though support for lethal removal is high in counties with active wolfpacks, according to a new survey on attitudes toward wildlife.
Statewide, 29% accepted shooting wolves that prey on livestock, the survey of 2,755 residents found. In King County, lethal control was agreeable to only 22%.
Lethal removal was favored by strong majorities in Ferry, Stevens and Asotin counties, where livestock has been attacked by packs this summer. Combined, the three counties have one-third as many residents as King County.
In Ferry County, where the OPT pack has been preying on cattle in the Colville National Forest, 75% agreed with lethal removal.
“We found there is much more support for lethal removal in places where the wolfpacks actually are,” said Andrew Don Carlos, a research associate at Colorado State University.
Researchers at Colorado State and Ohio State University led the 50-state study, titled “America’s Wildlife Values.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helped fund the study and state wildlife agencies assisted.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will hear a presentation on the report at its meeting Friday in Olympia. The study is intended to help wildlife managers understand different, and sometimes clashing, public viewpoints.
Compared to a 2004 survey, the study found a decline in the Western U.S. of “traditionalists,” who believe wildlife should be managed to benefit humans. They are now outnumbered by “mutualists,” who believe people should adapt to wildlife.
The study linked the shift to increasing incomes, education levels and urbanization. There is a strong connection between the rise of mutualists and opposition to lethal control of predators, said Michael Manfredo, head of the Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Department at Colorado State.
“They see wildlife on TV and through anthropomorphic depictions,” he said. “They start to regard them as human-like.”
The rise of mutualists also showed up in responses to broad policy questions, according to the study.
A majority of Washington residents, 68%, agreed society should value environmental protection over economic growth. A minority, 21%, agreed private property rights were more important than protecting wildlife.
Support was high for restoring fish and wildlife habitat, or acquiring new land for habitat. Maintaining recreational access or acquiring new land for recreation were less popular.
The mutualists dominated the Puget Sound area. “It looks like a vastly different value set than in Eastern Washington,” Don Carlos said.
To illustrate the divide in values, researchers posed the question about wolves, as well as ones about coyotes and black bears.
Support for lethally removing wolves that kill livestock was the same in Oregon as in Washington, 29%. Support was lower in California, 22%, and higher in Idaho, 48%, which has a large wolf population.
Among all states, Wyoming had the highest percentage of respondents agreeable to lethal removal of wolves, 54%.
Lethal control for coyotes that kill pets was supported by 38% in Washington, 37% in Oregon, 31% in California and 50% in Idaho.
Researchers asked whether residents agreed with lethally removing a black bear that killed a human “regardless of the circumstances.” Most did not.
In Washington, 31% agreed with killing the bear. Lethal control was supported by 33% in Oregon, 28% in California and 37% in Idaho.
The survey was conducted in 2017 and 2018 by mail and email. “We feel pretty good about the accuracy of the data,” Manfredo said.