Public opinion of wolves could influence hunt outcome

Nov. 15, 2012

by Jill Sakai

Illegal wolf kills typically spike during gun deer season, says UW-Madison environmental studies professor Adrian Treves, whether due to a sense of competition, fear, or simply increased opportunity.

Photo: Adrian Treves

Treves

Will the ongoing public wolf hunt affect that trend? New data revealing a declining tolerance of wolves among Wisconsin residents suggest that it could.

Despite large state deer populations, Treves has found evidence of an increased feeling of competition with wolves for those deer. In a novel study, he and colleagues Lisa Naughton-Treves and Victoria Shelley charted changing individual attitudes toward wolves over time.

The researchers surveyed more than 1,800 residents of Wisconsin wolf range about their attitudes toward wolves in 2001 and 2004, then re-surveyed 656 of the same people who still lived in wolf range in 2009 to see if and how individuals' views had changed.

"We show an eight-year decline in tolerance for wolves in Wisconsin," Treves says. The negative perceptions included increased self-reported fear of wolves, increased support for a public wolf hunt and state-sponsored lethal control measures, an increased sense of competition with wolves over deer, and a greater personal inclination to shoot a wolf illegally given the opportunity.

To the researchers' surprise, changing attitudes couldn't be chalked up to personal experiences among the respondents — they did not correlate with self-reported problems or negative encounters with the animals.

The findings are particularly important, he says, because they challenge some of the base assumptions used to support Wisconsin's new public wolf hunt, which opened Oct. 15 and could run through February unless the quota is filled before then.

"Viewing wolves as game is expected to change people's attitudes toward them," Treves says. "Our research suggests that it may depend more on how the media and opinion leaders respond to the hunting season."