Wildlife Conference Abstract, February 2004
The Grizzly Bear Outreach Project:
Promoting knowledge of grizzly bears among recovery zone residents in Washington’s North Cascades
C. Morgan, J. Davis, N. Laney, T. Ford.
Over the last two hundred years, the number of grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) in the coterminous USA has declined from an estimated 50,000-100,000 individuals to around 1100. The grizzly bear was listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1975 and six recovery ecosystems have been established since that time. The NCE is the largest grizzly bear recovery ecosystem encompassing approximately 24,800 km² in North Central Washington. The ecosystem extends for an additional 10,350 km² in south-central BC, Canada (Gaines et al. 2000).
The current population estimate for the Washington NCE is <20 individuals (Gaines et al. 2001). Observations and verified grizzly bear sign are very rare. Local residents have not co-existed with a significant grizzly bear population for many decades and public knowledge of grizzly bears is therefore limited.
Despite general support for grizzly bear recovery in Washington (Duda et al. 1996), segments of the human population in or near the NCE oppose recovery. In order for residents to make well-informed comments that reflect their opinions on grizzly bear recovery, perceptions and attitudes towards bears must be based upon accurate information. Agencies responsible for recovery in the NCE are keen to identify more effective public outreach strategies to overcome widespread misconceptions about grizzlies.
The Grizzly Bear Outreach Project (GBOP) began in April 2002 as an extension of past recovery-based education activities in the NCE. The GBOP provides factual information about grizzly bear ecology and behavior, sanitation and safety in bear country, and policies associated with the recovery process. The project engages community members in a process of education and rational, multi party dialogue that targets people living, recreating, and working in the NCE. It provides a non-advocacy setting for the involvement of all stakeholder groups.
The approach includes: 1) Community perceptions analyses to assess the knowledge and attitudes of community members prior to implementing education components. Analyses include qualitative interviews with representatives of various stakeholder groups (ranchers, timber industry workers, realtors, media, outfitters, guides, wildlife agency staff, recreationists, orchard owners, owners of recreation businesses, health professionals, teachers, school administrators, and community organization leaders), and quantitative baseline and follow-up telephone surveys with randomly selected NCE residents; 2) One-on-one meetings between project staff and community members to gauge concerns and share project information; 3) Small focus group meetings to discuss grizzly bear issues with 4–6 people at a time in informal settings; 4) A coalition of community members to provide a local information source and extend the reach of project staff; 5) A project brochure containing information about grizzly bear ecology, and sanitation and safety tips for the home, ranch, and campsite, in addition to hiking, horse packing, hunting, fishing, and community; 6) A project website (www.bearinfo.org) to facilitate distribution of project announcements, updates, and links to other relevant sites, and solicitation of anonymous comments from the public; 7) A modular slide show paralleling the content of the brochure.
The project was initiated in Okanogan County (north eastern NCE) by 2 small non-government organizations. Funding was provided by 2 non-government conservation organizations and 5 government agencies. The 2 GBOP directors (each 25% time, salaried) hired a local field coordinator (at ¾ of full time) to target 9 Okanogan County communities in and adjacent to the recovery area. The project expanded to include Whatcom and Skagit counties (north western NCE) in September 2003. This expansion required a second salaried field coordinator (at ½ of full time) and a focus on 10 additional communities.
One hundred thirty qualitative community assessment interviews were conducted Okanogan and Skagit Counties. Most participants in these interviews expressed an interest in having greater access to accurate information. In October 2003, a telephone survey of 508 randomly selected rural Whatcom and Skagit county residents (living in or adjacent to the recovery area) was conducted as part of a comprehensive baseline and follow up evaluation process. The survey consisted of 50 questions concerning knowledge of, and attitudes towards grizzly bears. Results revealed that 69% had heard little/nothing about grizzly bear recovery in the NCE; 65% knew that grizzly bears were ‘rare’ in the NCE; 50% thought (incorrectly) that vegetation comprises 50% or more of typical diet; 31% believed (incorrectly) it is legal to kill a grizzly bear in defense of livestock; 73% obtain most information about grizzly bears from newspapers, magazines, TV and films; 36% agreed that ‘grizzly bears are very dangerous to humans’ (56% disagreed); 76% of respondents supported recovery (52% strong support, 24% moderate support), while 16% opposed recovery (11% moderately, 5% strongly). Thirty three percent would be more supportive of recovery if the population was augmented with 5-10 bears, and 72% agreed that local citizens will be willing to work with wildlife management agencies to determine the best recovery steps. Initial assessment of demographic data reveals stronger support for recovery among females, young, and wilderness recreators.
More than 200 one-on-one meetings have been conducted with stakeholders in the three counties. This work confirms general support for recovery but limited knowledge of ecology and recovery processes. A coalition was established in the north eastern NCE with 5 initial members. Coalition members are currently being recruited in the north western NCE. Approximately 40 slide presentations have been delivered to audiences including the Washington Outfitters and Guides Association, community associations (e.g. Elks, Kiwanis), community colleges, outdoor recreation groups, conservancy organizations, schools, and agency workshops. Fifty thousand tri-fold brochures were printed in October 2002. Approximately 30,000 have been distributed to outlets including supporters in local communities; schools and youth organizations; churches; tourism business owners; stores; community visitor centers; wildlife Agency visitor centers and ranger stations; and at group presentations and community events. The project web site (www.bearinfo.org) has served approximately 6,000 visitors since late September 2002. Personal meetings with members of local media outlets have resulted in approximately 30 newspaper articles. North eastern NCE project activities halted in February 2003 and will be reinstated in March 2004.
Many wildlife research, conservation, and management projects lack mechanisms to promote meaningful engagement with the public. Our initial work suggests that the public seeks such engagement. Participant comments also suggest that early communication can help alleviate concerns regarding recovery activities. This may be especially true when dealing with listed species and the complex biological, social, and political elements that can emerge.
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