Category: Non-Game Management and Conservation
Published: March 17, 2015
Author(s): Francine Madden, Human--Wildlife Conflict Collaboration (HWCC)
People and Wolves in Washington: An independent conflict assessment
By most measures, the recovery of gray wolves in Washington State is going well. An annual field survey conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in late 2014 confirmed the presence of at least 68 wolves, up from 27 four years earlier. It also found a corresponding increase in the number of wolf packs and breeding pairs as the state's growing wolf population continues to spread west.
Yet, wolves remain a divisive issue in many parts of the state. While public opinion polls have consistently shown that most Washingtonians support wolf recovery, a significant portion of the state's residents oppose the state's wolf-management strategies. Public discord over this issue has been increasingly apparent in recent years:
- Thousands of people contacted WDFW to protest the two instances - in 2012 and 2014 - when the department took lethal action to stop wolves from preying on livestock. In both cases, WDFW was criticized those who did not believe those actions were warranted and those who argued that wildlife managers did not act quickly or forcefully enough to protect the ranchers' livestock.
- A public-opinion survey commissioned by WDFW in 2008 found that 75 percent of Washingtonians supported wolf recovery. In a follow-up survey conducted by the same company in 2014, statewide public support had declined to 64 percent.
- A dozen billboards featuring conflicting "pro-wolf/anti-wolf" messages have been on display in downtown Spokane since fall of 2014.
- Poachers killed three wolves in 2014, the highest number since wolves began reentering the state during the past decade.
Concerned about these trends, WDFW commissioned an international conservation conflict transformation specialist in early 2015 to assess the ongoing public divisiveness about wolves and wolf management. For her report, Francine Madden interviewed 90 people representing environmentalists, hunters, livestock producers, WDFW and other stakeholders.
"Many perceive wolves to be a trigger point for a broad array of other issues," Madden wrote in her report, People and Wolves in Washington: Stakeholder Conflict Assessment and Recommendations for Conflict Transformation. "All sides recognized the pressing need for more civility among individuals from all groups."
Madden, executive director of Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration (www.humanwildlifeconflict.org), has supported the transformation of conflict among diverse stakeholders and governments in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the United States on similar issues. WDFW wildlife managers plan to use her report as a guide in assessing its wolf-management operations, its Wolf Advisory Group, and future public outreach efforts with stakeholder groups.
A key principle of Washington's Wolf Conservation and Management Plan is that the success of any wolf-recovery effort ultimately depends on building public tolerance for wolves. Madden's assessment suggests that building a similar level of tolerance and mutual respect among stakeholders in the public debate over wolves may be equally important.
State wildlife managers are hopeful that Madden's recommendations will help WDFW and other stakeholders in wolf management achieve that goal.