Get access

Illinois resident attitudes toward recolonizing large carnivores


  • Associate Editor: John Daigle.


Large carnivores are recolonizing portions of midwestern North America given harvest protection and the presence of suitable habitat in the region. Perhaps more so than other species, the successful management and viability of large carnivore populations is as dependent on social acceptance as on biological factors. However, knowledge of human attitudes and perceptions toward large carnivores in much of the Midwest remains unknown. We assessed attitudes and perceptions of Illinois citizens about black bears (Ursus americanus), cougars (Puma concolor), and gray wolves (Canis lupus) via a mail survey to provide wildlife managers with an understanding of residents' views prior to formulating carnivore management plans. The survey instrument consisted of questions about large carnivores regarding knowledge and beliefs, experiences and encounters, attitudes toward carnivores and management, and demographic questions and behavioral characteristics. We surveyed residents statewide; the sample drawn was stratified by geographic region (northern, central, and southern) and urban or rural county designation within regions. Because we observed differences in demographic variables between respondents (by mail) and non-respondents (telephone interviewees), we did not pool responses from the 2 groups for analysis; the final response rate for the survey was 13%. More than 70% of survey respondents (n = 791) were male and their average age was 60; 55% were hunters. Approximately 40% were unsure about the population status of large carnivores in Illinois; of the remaining respondents, most (ranging from 20% for black bears to 41% for cougars) believed the presence of all 3 focal species had increased over the past decade. More residents supported protection (43%) and increasing numbers of large carnivores (39%) than opposed them (26%); however, support for black bears was slightly higher than for cougars and wolves. Rural residents and livestock owners were the most likely to want carnivore numbers to decrease and least likely to support their protection; higher levels of education corresponded to positive attitudes toward large carnivores. Our research provides the foundation for well-informed management plans, policy decisions, and educational initiatives for large carnivores in midwestern states where these species appear to be recolonizing following decades of absence. © 2014 The Wildlife Society.