Washington Resident's Opinions on Bear and Wolf Management and Their Experiences With Wildlife That Cause Problems


Published: May 2014

Pages: 190

Author(s): Responsive Management

Executive Summary


This study was conducted for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (hereinafter referred to as the Department) to determine residents' opinions on bear and wolf management, their opinions on management of predators in general, their experiences with wildlife that cause problems, and their participation in outdoor recreation. The study entailed a telephone survey of Washington residents from across the state.

For the survey, telephones were selected as the preferred sampling medium because of the almost universal ownership of telephones among Washington residents (both landlines and cell phones were called). Additionally, telephone surveys, relative to mail or Internet surveys, allow for more scientific sampling and data collection, provide higher quality data, obtain higher response rates, are more timely, and are more cost-effective. Telephone surveys also have fewer negative effects on the environment than do mail surveys because of reduced use of paper and reduced energy consumption for delivering and returning the questionnaires.

The telephone survey questionnaire was developed cooperatively by Responsive Management and the Department. The sample was developed using Random Digit Dialing, the most effective way to ensure that all residents have an equal chance of being selected, with landlines and cell phones included in their proper proportions so that the sample as a whole was representative of all residents across the state.

Telephone surveying times are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturday from noon to 5:00 p.m., and Sunday from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., local time. The software used for data collection was Questionnaire Programming Language. Responsive Management obtained a total of 904 completed interviews.

The analysis of data was performed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences as well as proprietary software developed by Responsive Management. Throughout this report, findings of the telephone survey are reported at a 95% confidence interval. For the entire sample of Washington residents 18 years old and older, the sampling error is at most plus or minus 3.26 percentage points.


  • More than a quarter of Washington residents (29%) have had problems with wild animals or birds in the past 2 years.
    • Deer and raccoons were the most commonly named species as causing problems (35% of those who said they had problems cited deer, 25% cited raccoons), followed by bear (14%), geese (13%), and coyotes (10%).
      • The overwhelmingly most common problem caused by deer and elk was that they ate gardens and landscaping (88% of those with deer/elk problems). Other deer/elk problems include annoyance in general from such things as droppings (15%), eating crops (7%), and vehicle collisions (also 7%).
      • The bear problems that were cited include getting into trash (44% of those who had bear problems), damaged structures/getting on porches/getting into things (other than trash) (31%), and eating or damaging landscaping, trees, and gardens (25%).
      • Problems caused by cougars and wolves include chasing/killing livestock (53% of those who had cougar/wolf problems), that there are simply too many of them (24%), and getting too close to humans/danger to humans (20%).
  • Of those 29% of residents who had problems with wildlife including wild birds, about 1 in 6 of them contacted the Department for assistance.
    • Common responses/services received, among those who contacted the Department, include having a Department employee attempt to remove the wildlife, information or advice over the telephone, or a visit from a Department employee to discuss the problem or attempt to remove the wildlife.
    • Of those who contacted the Department, 60% are satisfied with the responses/services that they received from the Department. Nonetheless, 21% are dissatisfied.
  • Although most commonly respondents did not know what rating to give the Department's management of problems caused by wildlife (33% did not know), they otherwise are positive: 51% give a rating of excellent or good, and only 6% give a rating of poor.
  • Information about how Washington State manages human-wildlife conflicts is largely unknown to residents: 71% had not, previous to the survey, heard or seen any information about how Washington manages those conflicts. Meanwhile, 28% indicate having heard or seen something.
    • Residents' preferred ways to be provided with information about human-wildlife conflicts are direct mail (25%), the Internet in general (23%), newspapers (23%), television (23%), and e-mail (17%).


  • While most Washington residents approve of legal, regulated hunting (88% do so), there are some who disapprove (7%).
  • The survey asked eight questions about support for or opposition to hunting for various purposes. For each question, respondents indicated their support or opposition, and the results to all the questions in the series are examined relative to one another. (Note that the questions were asked regardless of people's previous responses about approval or disapproval of hunting.)
    • Concerns related to ecologic impacts were relatively more important to respondents than were concerns related to impacts on humans. The highest support was for hunting to prevent the spread of animal diseases, to prevent damage to habitat caused by wildlife, and to control animal populations in a way that benefits other wildlife. The lowest support was for hunting to reduce animal-vehicle collisions and to control damage to private property.


  • There is much more support for (70%) than opposition to (15%) maintaining sustainable populations of predators in Washington.
    • The most common reason for support of having sustainable populations of predators is that predators are necessary for the ecosystem.
  • Regarding reducing predator populations to prevent the loss of domestic animals, including pets: support (48%) and opposition (39%) are both substantial, indicating that there is no consensus on this issue.
  • There is much more support for (68%) than opposition to (19%) reducing predator populations to protect threatened or endangered species.
  • Respondents were first informed that the overall health of deer and elk populations can vary because of factors including severe winters or poor habitat conditions. They were further informed that, when deer or elk populations are depressed, predators can hinder the population's ability to rebound. Respondents were then asked about their support for or opposition to reducing predator populations to increase deer or elk herds that are below population objectives. In these cases, support (71%) far exceeds opposition (15%).
    • Of those who oppose reducing predator populations to increase deer and elk herds that are below population objectives, the most common reasons are that they want nature to take its own course or that they are against the hunting of predators (or hunting entirely).


  • Opposition to (70%) far exceeds support for (17%) the lethal removal of black bears to prevent damage to timber on commercial timberlands.
    • A follow-up question asked whether, in the event that the Department does allow lethal removal of black bears, respondents think the removal should be done by hunters, by contracted professional sharpshooters, or a combination of the two. Most commonly, they want it done solely by hunters (36%). Otherwise, the percent wanting a combination (17%) is about the same as the percent wanting it done solely by professional sharpshooters (15%). A quarter of respondents (25%) said that they favored neither approach.


  • The most basic question about the recovery of wolves asked if residents supported or opposed it. There is much more support for (64%) than opposition to (27%) the recovery of wolves in Washington.
    • A follow-up question asked about support for or opposition to wolf recovery if it resulted in some localized declines in elk and deer populations: 57% support, while 28% oppose.
  • Residents were asked if they would support or oppose, once the wolf population in the state meets recovery population objectives, removing wolves from the state endangered species list. Support for this (73%) far exceeds opposition (15%).


  • When residents are asked to rate the Department's management of wolves in Washington, the majority (53%) do not know what rating to give. Otherwise, they are fairly evenly split, with 23% saying excellent or good (the upper half of the scale), and 23% saying fair or poor (the lower half of the scale). Despite the mixed results, note that only 10% rated the Department's management of wolves as poor.
    • Reasons for not giving a higher rating (among those who did not give a rating of excellent) include the feeling among residents that there are too many wolves, that they disagree with having wolves in Washington, the feeling that there are not enough wolves, that the Department does not communicate effectively about wolves, and that wolves cause problems.


  • While there is a majority of Washington residents in support of wolf recovery, there is also a majority who would support having the Department provide cost share funding to landowners to prevent wolves from attacking livestock: 61% support such cost share funding; however, 26% oppose.
    • A follow-up question adds a nuance to such cost share funding, and it was asked only of those who supported having the Department provide cost share funding to landowners to prevent wolves from attacking livestock. The question asked those who supported in the previous question whether they would support or oppose the provision of cost share funding as the primary strategy to address potential human conflicts with wolves. In this question, there is some erosion of support: 65% of them still support, but for 35%, their support either turns to opposition (20% of them) or turns to a neutral answer.
  • Again, while a majority of Washington residents support wolf recovery, there is also a majority who support (63%) some level of lethal wolf control to protect livestock in Washington. However, 28% of residents oppose lethal wolf control.
  • Finally in this section, the survey asked about support for or opposition to some level of lethal wolf control to protect deer, elk, and moose populations in Washington: on this question, 55% support, while 32% oppose.


  • While a majority of residents say that they are concerned about the impact wolves might have on elk populations (58% are concerned), most of that concern consists of those saying that they are somewhat concerned or a little concerned. Only 20% are extremely or very concerned. At the other end, 35% are not at all concerned.
  • A similar question to the one above asked about concern regarding the impact wolves might have on livestock. On this question, there is a bit more concern: 71% are concerned, including 29% who are extremely or very concerned. Those who are not at all concerned make up 22%.


  • Given the scenario where wolves are fully recovered, have reached population objectives, and have been removed from the state endangered species list, a majority of residents would support (63%) the establishment of a wolf hunting season; nonetheless, 28% would oppose.
    • Those who opposed were asked to rate the importance that a general opposition to hunting plays in their reason for opposing a hunting season for wolves: about a quarter of those who oppose a hunting season for wolves are opposed because of a general opposition to hunting.
    • A similar question asked those who oppose to rate the importance of this reason: that they do not support the hunting of wolves specifically. This reason is much more important than a general anti-hunting stance: nearly all those who oppose gave this reason a rating of the midpoint or higher.
  • Several questions asked about support for or opposition to a wolf hunting season for various reasons.
    • A wolf hunting season to maintain population objectives is supported by 69%, while it is opposed by 23%. This is the reason for hunting wolves with the highest level of support, of the four questions discussed here.
    • A wolf hunting season to provide a recreational hunting opportunity has less support (38%) than opposition (53%). Most opposition is strong opposition. Of the four reasons, this has, by far, the lowest support.
    • A wolf hunting season to address livestock attacks or depredation is supported by 65% and opposed by 25%.
    • Finally, a wolf hunting season to address impacts wolves have on other wildlife populations, such as deer, elk, and moose, is supported by 61% and opposed by 29%.


  • A little more than half of Washington residents have gone hiking in the past 2 years (57%), with wildlife viewing (47%), camping (45%), and fishing (42%) close behind in their participation rates. Rounding out the outdoor activities asked about are boating (39%), swimming in natural waters (34%), and hunting (17%).
  • About three quarters of Washington residents (77%) indicate having participated in outdoor recreation on state-owned land in the past 2 years.
  • Some additional questions were asked about hunting.
    • About a third of Washington residents (35%) say that they have gone hunting at some time in their lives. (The question did not define hunting strictly as physically carrying a firearm or bow, so those who have accompanied others may have answered yes to this question. This could slightly raise the actual rate over a more restrictive definition of participation in hunting.)
    • Among those who had been hunting in Washington, 81% of them indicate having purchased a hunting license in Washington at some time.
    • The most popular species to hunt, by far, are white-tailed deer, elk, and mule deer.
    • About a fifth of Washington residents have hunted outside of Washington at some time in their lives.
    • A final question about hunting asked residents to indicate where they fell within hunting categories, with one category being a non-hunter. About half of residents indicate not being a hunter and being unlikely to ever be a hunter (48% said this best defined them). Another 13% indicate not being a hunter but say they might consider becoming one. At the other end, 20% consider themselves to be a current hunter, while 13% say that they hunted in the past but no longer do so.


  • A quarter of Washington residents (25%) say that they are members of or have donated to an organization that promotes wildlife conservation or habitat enhancement.