While hunting and fishing license dollars make up the primary means of support for most agencies, the conservation and management services provided by state fish and wildlife departments benefit all citizens, not just hunters and anglers. As a result, there is growing interest in measuring the attitudes of the general population (including non-hunters and non-anglers) with regard to their awareness and understanding of the work of their state fish and wildlife agency and its value to their daily lives. Knowing this information is the first step to broadening agency funding support down the road.
Responsive Management recently completed a new study for the Oregon Legislative Task Force on Funding for Fish, Wildlife, and Related Outdoor Recreation and Education to determine Oregon residents' attitudes toward wildlife and wildlife-related funding, as well as their knowledge of and opinions on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and its efforts. The study entailed a scientific telephone survey of Oregon residents, with landlines and cell phones called in their exact proportions.
In addition to exploring knowledge and impressions of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the survey examined opinions related to the protection of fish, wildlife, and habitat; satisfaction with the Department overall; opinions on Department priorities; knowledge of Department funding; and information sources about fish, wildlife, recreation, and conservation. The research also explored respondents' participation in outdoor recreation, including any constraints to participation experienced.
Ecological Values More Important to Oregonians Than Utilitarian Values
A few basic findings from the survey affirm the importance of wildlife and their habitat to Oregon residents. An early question asked respondents to rate the importance of eight fish and wildlife values using a 0 to 10 scale. The top two values in the ranking–“that healthy fish and wildlife populations exist in Oregon” and “that Oregon's water resources are safe and well protected”–are purely ecological rather than utilitarian. The more utilitarian values, such as the provision of opportunities for hunting, fishing, and viewing wildlife, received lower ratings of importance from Oregon residents.
An open-ended question then asked about the most important fish, wildlife, or habitat issue in Oregon (residents could say anything that came to mind). The top issues are habitat loss, lack of water, low/declining fish populations, urban sprawl, and conservation/management of resources in general.
High Ratings for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Before focusing on the Department specifically, the survey measured satisfaction with the protection and management of fish, wildlife, and habitat in Oregon in general. Satisfaction (61% of residents) well exceeds dissatisfaction (18%). (Interestingly, a top reason for being dissatisfied with the protection and management of fish, wildlife, and habitat in Oregon is related to a lack of funding, including for the staffing of enforcement officers.)
Regarding the Department specifically, slightly more than half of Oregon residents (56%) are able to correctly name the agency responsible for protecting and managing fish, wildlife, and habitat in the state. Satisfaction with the agency is also high, with 65% of Oregonians being satisfied compared to only 12% being dissatisfied with the agency. The Department is also widely viewed as a credible agency, with about 9 out of 10 Oregon residents describing it as such (more than half say the agency is very credible).
Importance of Ecological Values Translates to Preferred Department Priorities
The survey presented ten efforts of the Department and asked residents to rate how important each one should be for the agency on a 0 to 10 scale. Residents were then asked to rate the performance of the Department in the same areas.
Regarding how important the efforts should be, ecological efforts are again at the top of the ranking: “conserving and restoring fish and wildlife habitat,” “protecting endangered species,” and “protecting and restoring native fish and wildlife species in Oregon.”
Comparatively human-centered efforts, such as the provision of opportunities for wildlife-related recreation and providing information and education, rank lower.
Regarding the Department's current performance, the effort with the highest mean rating is “providing opportunities for fish- and wildlife-related recreation” (a human-centered effort), closely followed by “protecting endangered species” (an ecological effort). After these, ecological efforts tend to be rated higher than the more human-centered efforts.
Diverging Opinions on Department Funding
In an open-ended question (respondents could answer with anything that came to mind), residents were asked how they thought the Department was funded. The most common response was taxes in general (53% named this). This answer, of course, is not entirely correct, as relatively little of the agency's funding comes from general taxes. The next most common response was a correct funding source: hunting and fishing licenses (30% named this source). Meanwhile, just 4% of residents named excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment (an important funding source).
Another open-ended question asked what residents think should be the primary source of funding for the Department. General taxes was the top response (33% gave this answer), with no elaboration on the type of taxes or otherwise more specifically defining the taxes. The second most common response was hunting and fishing licenses (19%). General state taxes (7%) was third, but this response is nearly the same as the top response (taxes in general), suggesting that 40% of respondents think that general state taxes should be the primary source of funding for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
After being informed that only 9% of the Department's funding comes from general state tax revenues, residents were asked whether they thought that amount was too little, too much, or about right. The most common responses are that it is too little (41%) or that it is about the right amount (40%); only a small percentage of Oregon residents say that it is too much (4%).
Complete Survey Findings and Crosstabulations Available Online
The survey data were analyzed by key demographics, including county of residence, gender, and age. To examine the differences in attitudes among Oregon residents who were familiar or unfamiliar with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Responsive Management also crosstabulated the data by awareness of the agency. The full survey report is available here.
Additional Research to Explore Attitudes Toward Specific Funding Mechanisms
Responsive Management will be working with the Oregon Legislative Task Force on Funding for Fish, Wildlife, and Related Outdoor Recreation and Education again this fall to conduct a survey that will examine opinions on specific funding mechanisms and options for the Department and its efforts.
Responsive Management Services:
- Telephone surveys
- Mail surveys
- Web-based surveys (when appropriate)
- Personal interviews
- Park / outdoor recreation intercepts
- Focus groups
- Needs assessments
- Literature reviews
- Data collection for researchers and universities
- Marketing, communications, outreach, and public relations plans
- Program evaluations
- Policy analysis
For more information about Responsive Management, visit www.responsivemanagement.com.