With increasing debates on issues of animals' rights, Western fishing and wildlife agencies find they need to better understand the values of society to attend to the public's changing views, says Mike Manfredo, department head and professor of natural resources recreation and tourism.
Manfredo headed a CSU study for Western agencies of the International Association of Fishing and Wildlife to gain a better perspective on Westerner's beliefs about animals.
The study divided the public into four categories: utilitarian – those who believe animals exist for human use, mutualist – those who believe humans and wildlife co-exist as if they are family, pluralists – those who have a mixture of utilitarian and mutualist views and distanced – those who don't care much for wildlife or wildlife related issues.
Nineteen Western states were polled on wildlife issues and a total of 12,673 represented a vastly separated public. Yet results showed a shift in the population away from the belief that animals are only for human use.
The regional data showed the amount of utilitarians, 34 percent, just barely exceeds the amount of mutualists, 33 percent. Additionally, 20 percent are pluralists and 13 percent are distanced.
In Colorado, the mutualist population, 35 percent, surpassed the 34 percent of utilitarians while 22 percent were pluralist and 9 percent were distanced.
"I think it's good that the public is moving toward a more conservationist approach to wildlife, that will definitely be needed in the years to come as more and more species become endangered and threatened," said Jacey Roche, junior wildlife biology major.
Roche's participation in the study, through an internship in which she did statistical analysis, influenced her to include the human dimensions of her major into her own studies.
The CSU study received a positive response from Western fishing and wildlife agencies, and the results will be used as a planning tool to predict the public's response to future implementations said Tara Teel, natural resources recreation and tourism assistant professor.
"It puts the agency in a better position to be able to better represent the publics that they have in each state," Teel said. "They can make sure they can communicate with each of those groups."
Although difficult to predict without a survey, Manfredo and Teel agreed CSU would most likely have a higher percentage of mutualists than that of Colorado. Manfredo said being raised in highly urbanized places and higher education are factors more likely to lead toward mutualist views and that this could affect CSU's results. However, Teel added each group would be easily represented because of the diversity of CSU's student body.
The study was a professor and student collaboration with many undergraduates helping send out surveys and graduate students analyzing the results.
"We couldn't have done it without CSU students," Manfredo said. "It was a very large study, over 120,000 surveys were sent out."
Manfredo said he predicts the move towards mutualism will continue. He suspects the reason could be a combination of population growth in urban areas or an increasing amount of people moving into western states.