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The influence of persuasive arguments on public attitudes toward a proposed wolf restoration in the southern Rockies

Authors

  • Robert Meadow,

    Corresponding author
      Decision Research, 4301 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 436, Washington, D.C. 20008, USA.
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    • Bob Meadow is President of Decision Research, a public opinion research firm he founded in 1984. Before becoming a political consultant, Bob was a noted academic, authoring four books and dozens of articles on public opinion, media, and politics. He was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, San Diego. Later he became the founding Director of the Kentucky Poll and the University of Kentucky Survey Research Center.

  • Richard P. Reading,

    Corresponding author
      Denver Zoological Foundation, 2900 East 23rd Ave., Denver, CO 80205, USA; e-mail for Reading: rreading@denverzoo.org
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    • Richard Reading is the founding director of the Department of Conservation Biology at the Denver Zoological Foundation, where he has worked since 1996. He received a Ph.D. from Yale University (1993) on the social and ecological aspects associated with recovery of black-footed ferrets and other endangered species. Rich worked for the Bureau of Land Management in Montana and as an international consultant in Australia and Mongolia prior to his current position. His entire career has been devoted to developing interdisciplinary approaches for protecting endangered species and their habitat. His current longterm research projects include wild Bactrian camels, argali sheep, and prairie dogs.

  • Mike Phillips,

    Corresponding author
      Turner Endangered Species Fund, 1123 Research Dr., Bozeman, MT 59718, USA.
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    • Mike Phillips (photo) is the Executive Director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund and has served as such since the Fund's inception in 1997. Mike has been involved in wolf recovery issues since the mid-1980s, first with the Department of Interior and now with the private sector. Mike's other professional interests include restoration ecology, privatization of imperiled species restoration projects, and the nexus between natural resource management, economics, and politics.

  • Mark Mehringer,

    Corresponding author
      Decision Research, 4301 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 436, Washington, D.C. 20008, USA.
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    • Mark Mehringer is a senior analyst at Decision Research. He has conducted numerous polls on environmental issues, as well as for a range of political campaigns and ballot committees. Mark graduated from Claremont McKenna College and received his Master's in politics from Claremont Graduate University.

  • Brian J. Miller

    Corresponding author
      Denver Zoological Foundation, 2900 East 23rd Ave., Denver, CO 80205, USA; e-mail for Reading: rreading@denverzoo.org
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    • Brian Miller has been the Coordinator of Conservation Biology at the Denver Zoological Foundation since 1997. His professional interests include the role of carnivores in maintaining ecosystem processes and the restoration of that role across landscapes and regions. Brian has worked with black-footed ferrets, jaguars, and pumas. the last six years he has been investigating how wolves in Grand Teton National Park affect the small and medium-sized mammal community.


Decision Research, 4301 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 436, Washington, D.C. 20008, USA.

Denver Zoological Foundation, 2900 East 23rd Ave., Denver, CO 80205, USA; e-mail for Reading: rreading@denverzoo.org

Turner Endangered Species Fund, 1123 Research Dr., Bozeman, MT 59718, USA.

Abstract

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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