Perhaps no species elicits more polarized opinions in the United States than the gray wolf (Canis lupus). Both proponents and opponents of wolf recovery use symbolic language in an attempt to persuade others to change their attitudes and values. We used structured phone interviews with 1,300 registered voters to examine the attitudes of people living in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico toward a proposed restoration of the gray wolf to the southern Rocky Mountains, and to examine the ability of persuasive arguments to change these attitudes. We found a high level of support for wolf restoration by residents of all 3 states; 64% of respondents favored reestablishing wolves in the southern Rockies, whereas 33% expressed opposition. Support was general across almost all demographic and other groups sampled, the exception being ranchers (44% in favor, 53% opposed). Persuasive arguments had little impact on respondents' attitudes toward wolves and their proposed restoration. Overall support for wolf reestablishment remained high and increased slightly after respondents heard persuasive arguments for and against wolf restoration. Yet most respondents (63.3%) did not change their level of support or opposition to the idea of reestablishing wolves after hearing persuasive arguments. Most people who did change their opinion increased the extremity of their responses, supporting attitudinal theory that predicts that people with strongly held attitudes will increase the extremity of their opinions after receiving more information. The attitudes people hold are critically important to the success of wolf restoration efforts. Although most of the public supports wolf restoration, polarization of the issue remains strong. This polarization poses a significant challenge to wildlife managers. If management agencies decide to pursue wolf restoration in the southern Rockies, efforts to mitigate strongly polarized positions should be given a high priority. Alternatively, if those agencies choose not to restore wolves, they likely will face significant controversy as unsatisfied wolf proponents make their feelings known.
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