New poll suggests wildlife management in Washington is 'out of touch with the public' and could have political implications

New poll suggests wildlife management in Washington is ‘out of touch with the public’ and could have political implications

According to a poll commissioned by a nonprofit organization dedicated to reforming the state’s wildlife management agency, a majority of Washington voters think the goal of state wildlife managers should be to “preserve and protect fish and wildlife”.

This language was taken directly from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s mission statement and was juxtaposed with the second part of the mission, which calls for maximizing “hunting and fishing opportunities.” Twenty percent of respondents said this should be WDFW’s goal.

The department’s full mission statement is to “preserve, protect, and perpetuate fish, wildlife, and ecosystems while providing sustainable recreational and commercial opportunities for fish and wildlife.”

This discovery – among other things – shows that “the department is disconnected from the public,” said Samantha Bruegger, executive director of Washington Wildlife First. The nonprofit, founded in 2021, presented the findings at the Wildlife Society’s annual conference in Spokane this week.

“I think our poll did a great job of showing that department policy has a huge gap between how the public values ​​these species and how the department manages these species,” she said.

Opponents of Washington Wildlife First’s efforts to reform state management have criticized the wording of the questions, arguing that the wording leads to predetermined answers or establishes false dichotomies.

“I think my thoughts would be assumed that if you have an end goal in mind, it doesn’t matter how independent your pollster is,” said Dan Wilson, Washington co-chair for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “If you have leading questions, you will always get answers favorable to your position.”

Wilson said preserving and protecting state wildlife is not incompatible with maximizing hunting opportunities, a fundamental tenet of the North American wildlife conservation model.

The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a national polling firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina, which “conducts polls for politicians and political organizations, labor unions, consultants, nonprofits, and businesses”.

Between October 17 and 18, pollsters polled 713 registered voters in Washington, 60% of whom were reached by text and 40% by phone. The survey’s margin of error is +/- 3.7%.

Claire Davis, an attorney and president of Washington Wildlife First, said staff drafted the questions and sent them to the polling agency, which then edited them slightly.

“Our attempt was to be as fair as possible so that you can read the questions and assess for yourself what the answers mean,” she said. “For some questions, there’s information embedded in the question…that’s not unusual in polls.”

Pollsters also asked respondents whether they “support or oppose the use of taxpayer dollars to recruit and reactivate more hunters,” a reference to part of WDFW’s recently released recreation plan, whose one part calls for the recruitment of new hunters. Of those surveyed, 56% were opposed to using taxpayer dollars for this effort and 27% were in favor of doing so.

Pollsters also asked attendees about findings from a 2021 state audit, among other things, that 21% of WDFW employees said they had been bullied on the job during the year. past, while 30% said they had witnessed bullying directed at others in the past year; 68% of respondents said they found it “very disturbing”.

Davis said she was “amazed” the audit hadn’t received more attention.

Respondents also had strong views on carnivore management, with 80% opposing the spring bear hunt. In households with active hunters, 69% opposed the spring bear hunt. This opposition has spread across the state, with 81% opposing the spring bear hunt in King County and 77% in eastern Washington.

The survey also found that 38% of Washingtonians support the state’s culling of endangered wolves in response to livestock predation; 25% supported killing wolves to attack livestock grazing on state forest land and 22% supported killing wolves “when owners have failed to take reasonable steps to protect livestock.

Julia Smith, wolf policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said there were “no surprises” in the wolves’ responses and the results are consistent with current management. from WDFW.

“It’s a nearly even split between support and opposition to killing wolves, with 20% unsure,” WDFW spokeswoman Staci Lehman said in an email. “We already don’t kill wolves unless the owners have taken reasonable steps to protect the livestock.”

More broadly, Lehman said WDFW “understands that people’s values ​​and attitudes vary.” She cited a 2021 WDFW survey showing that 48% of Washingtonians approve of some lethal carnivore control to protect deer, elk and moose populations in Washington, compared to 30% who oppose it.

Davis agreed that, broadly, the two polls complement each other. She argued, however, that the Washington Wildlife First poll asked more specific, concrete questions and sampled a wider range of Washingtonians; of those surveyed, 32% lived in King County, 15% in North Puget Sound, 16% in South Puget Sound, 17% in Eastern Washington, 10% in Southwestern Washington, and 7 % in the Olympic Peninsula and 3% in central Washington. .

“You don’t take everything based on a poll,” she said. “You look at a variety of different polls. We are not saying that our survey is the be all and end all.

Political considerations

As well as revealing what the general public thinks, the poll may also have political implications. Three seats on the nine-person commission overseeing the WDFW are open for nomination in December, including Eastern Washington Commissioner Kim Thorburn, a vocal critic of Washington Wildlife First and its reform mission. Although Davis said the poll was not intentionally timed to coincide with reappointments, she hopes it will influence the governor’s decisions.

“We did the poll when we could muster the resources to do it, because polls don’t come cheap,” she said. “But we certainly think it’s very important for Governor Inslee to consider the poll results when we consider the appointment of the next three commissioners.”

Thorburn, who led the Spokane Regional Health District until 2006, said she had “a huge distrust of ‘science’ by special interest groups.” She cites the Tobacco Wars — in which tobacco companies have released study after study in defense of smoking — as evidence of her distrust.

Methodology aside, it has a broader critique.

“I don’t believe that good politics that has primarily to do with societal values ​​is done by imposing majority values, especially when they completely lock down a minority culture,” she said in an email. .

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