Wildlife Value Study Finds DEEP Misaligned with Public
A 2018 publication by Manfredo et al, “America’s Wildlife Values: The Social Context of Wildlife Management,” provides evidence of the evolving public desire to coexist peacefully with wildlife. This publication was sponsored by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Multistate Conservation Grants Program and had additional funding support from participating state fish and wildlife agencies, including Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). The purpose was to understand the growing conflicts around wildlife management. Data included analyses of public values (2018 survey, all 50 states) and agency cultures (2018 survey, 28 states, including Connecticut).
The report found that public desire for peaceful coexistence with wildlife is growing all across America. The largest group in the nation is now “Mutualists,” who “see animals as family or companions, deserving of caring and rights like humans. They respond positively to a vision of humans and wildlife living side by side without fear.” The report showed a value shift in recreation that indicates that interest in hunting and fishing is declining, while interest in wildlife viewing is increasing.
PHOTO CAPTION: The 2018 report found that public desire for peaceful coexistence with wildlife is growing all across America, including here in Connecticut. The report also highlighted DEEP’s bias and misalignment with the values held by the people of Connecticut. Photo credit: Annie Hornish
The report discussed governance styles by fish and wildlife agencies and proposed an “Expert Model” that places priorities on science, innovation, protecting habitat, being proactive, and focusing on the future. In sharp contrast, DEEP’s culture survey found the polar opposite, which focuses on politics, tradition, hunting, and being reactive. DEEP employees responded to the survey question “If forced to choose, my agency would place greater priority on” with the following: Protecting wildlife habitat (27.0%) vs. Providing recreational opportunities (73.0%) (i.e., hunting); Hunter recruitment and retention (59.7%) vs. Reaching a diversity of interests (40.3%); Science (35.5%) vs. Politics (64.5%); Tradition (74.6%) vs. Innovation (25.4%); The present (74.2%) vs. The future (25.8%); and Being proactive (19.0%) vs. Being reactive (81.0%).
Comparing the DEEP survey data to the public survey showed that DEEP clearly does not represent the values of the majority of the Connecticut population. Findings: 41% of Connecticut respondents are Mutualists vs. 4.8% at DEEP; 21% of Connecticut respondents are Traditionalists vs. 69.8% at DEEP; 21% of Connecticut respondents have hunted vs. 73.8% of DEEP employees. The report also found that most DEEP employees recognize that the views of the public in Connecticut are changing with regards to fish and wildlife management.
This report found that wildlife viewing, at both the state and national level, is the most popular outdoor activity and people have a significant interest in viewing wildlife in the future. Though DEEP is in near-complete misalignment with values of Connecticut residents and the employees at DEEP fully recognize this fact, the report also found that 57% of Connecticut residents still feel that they share the same values as DEEP. It now becomes incumbent on wildlife advocates to educate the public by shining a bright light on DEEP’s anti-wildlife, fear-mongering propaganda, and move our agency in line with our shared values of peaceful coexistence with wildlife. We must embrace common sense, not fear, and protect the wild beauty that surrounds us.
Annie Hornish is Connecticut State Director for The Humane Society of the United States and a member of The Sierra Club.