Views Toward Wildlife Changing in Western States, Colorado State University Research Says

Values regarding wildlife are changing in the West along with a broader societal shift that is occurring in this region of the country, Colorado State University researchers say.

Professors in the Department of Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism in the College of Natural Resources recently conducted a study involving residents in 19 Western states to measure public values about wildlife. To conduct the study, the researchers mailed surveys and conducted follow-up interviews during the fall of 2004 and winter of 2005. More than 12,000 surveys were received, and 7,600 phone interviews were completed. The study was commissioned by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, an organization that includes the 19 Western states.

The study identified two broad categories of wildlife values. "Utilitarian" values are associated with the view that wildlife exist for human benefit – serving as resources for recreational, personal or economic uses. These values are tied to support for and participation in recreational hunting. "Mutualist" values are represented by a sense of empathy and caring toward wildlife. They are captured in the desire for a world in which humans and wildlife can live side-by-side without fear as if part of an extended family.

People typically possess both utilitarian and mutualist values but hold them with varying degrees. Colorado State Professor Michael Manfredo noted that, based on study findings, three types of individuals can be identified in this context:

–     Utilitarians view wildlife pragmatically – they tend to emphasize utilitarian values across a variety of wildlife-related issues and situations.

–     Mutualists place priority on mutualist values and thus may have an emotional attachment or sense of caring toward wildlife that dominates their thinking across different issues.

–     A third group, called pluralists, are strong on both utilitarian and mutualist values. "Holding high levels of both of these values may sound a bit peculiar, but there are many people who fit into this category," Manfredo said. "Their view would depend on the specific situation or topic under consideration. They might be the person who says, ‘I don’t oppose others hunting, but I could never bring myself to harm an animal.’"

These different types of people hold contrasting opinions on a host of different contemporary fish and wildlife management issues. For example, utilitarians would readily support elimination of wildlife causing damage or an increase in recreational hunting to deal with nuisance wildlife in residential areas, an action that mutualists generally would not support.

"When looking at the predominant types of values in the West, we see a great deal of variability among states," said Professor Tara Teel, co-investigator on the study. "For example, South Dakota has a high proportion of utilitarians and a low proportion of mutualists. The remainder of the people in the state can either be classified as pluralists or as people with little interest in wildlife. In contrast, California has a high number of mutualists compared to utilitarians."  

One of the main goals of the study was to determine whether or not wildlife values are changing and to explore some of the factors that can affect wildlife value shift.  "Those in the wildlife profession have had to deal with an increasing amount of conflict in the past several decades," said Duane Shroufe, director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which is a member of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. "It seems as though people have changed in their view about wildlife and that there are now many diverse interests at the table when we make decisions."  

Results suggest that the public’s values toward wildlife have been shifting more toward mutualist values and away from utilitarian values. The change is slow and occurs between generations of people. Analysis of the study would suggest that the change is due to some very basic changes in society – including increases in urbanization, economic well-being and education. As these changes occur, people are less driven by economic or subsistence needs and become less likely to have utilitarian orientations toward wildlife.  Conversely, as economic and subsistence needs are met, they are replaced with other needs such as social belonging. As these needs emerge, people are more likely to see wildlife as part of their extended social group; that is, to have mutualist values.

"This study suggests we, in governmental agencies that manage wildlife, must give serious consideration to the future," said Shroufe. "How do we prepare for the needs of a changing population and still meet the needs of our traditional stakeholders such as hunters and anglers? In other words, the future is now. We see these opposing values on a day-to-day basis in the decisions we make, and we are constantly working to find ways to gain consensus among the multiple value groups. This still represents one of our greatest challenges in the management of fish and wildlife today."

Scientists don’t expect values to shift so much that one way of thinking disappears, but some states are likely to experience considerable change in the views of their public. "States projected by the U.S. Census to increase in population in the next 25 years might be those most likely to experience change in the short term," Manfredo said. "These are places where the forces driving change – urbanization, income, education – are likely to increase rapidly."

Western states expected to grow 50 percent or more by 2030 include Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Idaho and Utah. In contrast, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska are expected to increase in population size less than 7 percent.

Graphics accompanying this press release can be obtained on the Web at:

Additional information and results from the "Wildlife Values in the West" study can be found in the final project report, also available for downloading at the above Web site.

For questions about this study, contact:

Michael Manfredo, Colorado State University, (970) 491-0474 or (970) 222-4776

Duane Shroufe, Arizona Game and Fish Department, (602) 942-3000