"Animal of the Year": New Poll Shows Widespread Support for Wolves

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(12/30/1996) - In releasing a new poll today showing that New York residents support reintroducing wolves to the Adirondacks by a margin of 8 to 1, Defenders of Wildlife said that the surprisingly strong support represents just the latest in a string of 1996 successes for the wolf in the United States.

Defenders' President Rodger Schlickeisen said, "The editors of Time obviously don't put animals on their magazine's cover at year's end, but if they did, the wolf would be chosen `Animal of the Year' hands down. 1996 has been the Year of the Wolf. During 1996 wolves have successfully repopulated Yellowstone and central Idaho, have won a ballot initiative against same- day aerial hunting in Alaska, have been officially proposed for reintroduction in the Southwest, and have inspired an overwhelming majority of New York residents to support bringing them back to their historic home in the Adirondacks. These successes reflect an improving public attitude not only toward wolves but also toward nature in general." According to Mark Damian Duda, Executive Director of Responsive Management, Inc., which conducted the recent poll, "Not only is support for wolf reintroduction in Adirondack Park high among New Yorkers and New England residents, but there is strong support among the park's residents. Among Adirondack Park residents, 3 out of 4 (76 percent) support reintroduction of the eastern timber wolf to Adirondack Park, while 19 percent oppose." Furthermore, two-thirds (67 percent) of hunters residing in the park support reintroduction. Eighty percent of New Yorkers support reintroduction, while only 10 percent oppose. More than 84 percent of all New England residents want to bring back the wolves.

The poll released today is based on a survey of 1,207 individuals conducted between October 19 and November 11 among 501 Adirondack Park residents, 506 New York State residents, and 200 New England residents - on attitudes toward timber wolf reintroduction to the Adirondack Park and other wildlife- related questions. Responsive Management, Inc. has conducted more than two hundred previous surveys and focus groups on wildlife and natural resources, many of them for fish and game agencies. In 1995, Duda was the recipient of the 1995 Conservation Achievement Award from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Defenders of Wildlife sponsored the poll as well as a tour of "ambassador" wolves in New York and a "Wolves of America" conference November 14-16 in Albany. At the conference Defenders released its preliminary scientific analysis that concluded that the six-million-acre Adirondack Park would provide suitable habitat for wolves.

Duda said, "The support for wolf reintroduction in the Adirondacks is among the strongest that I have seen in recent surveys of public attitudes towards species' recovery in the United States. In this case this support is surprisingly strong among those most affected by the wolf reintroduction effort."

Respondents offered many reasons for supporting or opposing wolf reintroduction into Adirondack Park. For example, 41 percent of supporters in the park and 36 percent of statewide supporters gave as their main reason "because wolves are part of the ecosystem and food chain." "To save the wolf from extinction and increase its chance for survival" was the main reason for supporting reintroduction for 16 percent of in-park supporters and for 26 percent of statewide supporters. Another popular reason for support was "because wolves were here before humans and they belong here" (21 percent of park supporters and 21 percent of statewide supporters).

Defenders' President Schlickeisen said these results show that, "Public attitudes toward predators have changed in recent years. Many people say they support wolves but assume their neighbors still don't. Clearly, their assumption is wrong. Most New Yorkers love the idea of bringing wolves back to their state. They understand the desirability of restoring the dynamic balance of nature by returning the wolf to Adirondack Park."

Schlickeisen observed that among the small percentage of people opposing wolf reintroduction, the two major reasons for opposition were based upon fears that should be reduced by educational outreach. For example, among park residents who opposed reintroduction, the main reasons were a fear that "wolves are dangerous to humans" (given by 36 percent) and "wolves are dangerous to livestock and pets" (6 percent). However, he noted that there is no recorded incident in American history of a healthy wild wolf ever killing or seriously injuring a human. Moreover, experience with wolves in Minnesota and the Northern Rockies has demonstrated that wolf predation on livestock and pets is minimal, and could be less than that of the coyotes that the wolves will replace. In addition, Defenders maintains a fund from which it reimburses any farmers who lose livestock to wolves.

The eastern timber wolf, which is classified as an endangered species, has been missing from the Northeast for nearly one hundred years. The Adirondack Park was one of three areas in the Northeast identified by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as suitable for wolf recovery. The other two are in Maine. The next step toward wolf restoration in New York would be for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to oversee an independent feasibility study to ensure that the effort is biologically possible. Defenders of Wildlife has pledged to pay for the study, which could cost between sixty and eighty thousand dollars.

Said Schlickeisen: "One of the principal reasons that wolf reintroduction makes sense is that after one cuts through the mythology and the emotionalism, it is just a fundamentally good and reasonable idea. Reintroduction will be good for the ecosystem. It should boost park tourism and provide a new stream of jobs and income. And, perhaps more than any other single conservation achievement, it could demonstrate that Americans are ready to establish a more mutually beneficial relationship with nature."

In addition to leading efforts to return wolves to the Adirondacks, Defenders of Wildlife also played a key role in the successful reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 and 1996, in the December 19 issuance of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) final environmental impact statement recommending restoration of the Mexican wolf to part of its former range in Arizona and New Mexico, and in November's successful passage of the pro-wolf ballot initiative in Alaska. It is a nonprofit membership conservation organization with more than 185,000 members. Founded in 1947, Defenders is preparing for its 50th Anniversary Year in 1997. Schlickeisen noted that, "It is appropriate that the wolf appears on the Defenders of Wildlife logo, because for the New Year, we are expecting to celebrate not only our anniversary but also another Year of the Wolf."

Additional charts and an executive summary are available.

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Contact(s):

Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x220(media)
Nina Fascione, 202-682-9400 x227(program)
Mark Duda, Executive Director, Responsive Mgmt, 540-432-1888

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