UNIVERSITY STUDY ON PUBLIC WOLF PERCEPTIONS

In the summer of 2014, Bonnie Bishop from MemorialUniversity, St. John’s, Newfoundland, spent three months in Thompson and undertooka study of the public attitudes toward wolves, wolf management and the “WolfCapital of the World” initiative. Bishop’s research is part of her Master’sDegree in resource management under the guidance of Dr. Alistair Bath, anassociate professor and expert in the field of Human Dimensions (HD). HD seeksto determine and resolve conflict issues between wildlife and people, orbetween people and people. By learning how humans and wildlife interact,government and other authorities can develop wildlife management policies thatare understood and supported by the constituents they represent.

Dr. Bath was a guest speaker at Thompson’s Wolf &Carnivore Conference in Thompson in October, 2012 and held two Wolf Workshopsfor Spirit Way Inc in Thompson and Winnipeg in May, 2013. Dr. Bath has recentlyfacilitated sessions in Brazil, Alaska, and Germany. Dr. Bath became veryinterested in the idea of Thompson becoming a wolf capital and a wolf centre ofexcellence. “I’ve seen some of the efforts by Spirit Way Inc and its partners,and I don’t see that anywhere else I go to do my work,” stated Bath. “There aresome innovative things going on here, and I wanted to participate with mystudent.”

Bonnie Bishop used aself-administered quantitative research instrument applied to randomly selectedresidents of Thompson, Manitoba. Most of the items were close-ended questionsthat had been previously pre-tested to ensure reliability of attitudinalconcepts and to ensure they were logical and unambiguous.  By doing this, the accuracy anddependability of data also becomes increased. The sections of the questionnaireincluded basic demographics, attitudes, values, beliefs, fear and management,risk perception and control, economic and behavioural intention, trust andcredibility, all regarding wolves and Thompson becoming the “Wolf Capital ofthe World”. The questionnaire included 101 items. Thiscomprehensive study on wolf issues will help understand where differences andconflicts exist and guide further educational efforts and decision-making.

Participants were randomly selected from the localtelephone directory. Individuals were then randomly selected within eachhousehold and contacted by telephone to obtain a verbal acceptance to completethe questionnaire. Of the 502 questionnaires distributed, 389 were returned,yielding a response rate of 77% and the ability to generalize results to thepopulation 19 times out of 20, plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The primary research questions related to:

1)How do Thompson residents feel about wolves?

2)How do residents feel about positioning Thompson as the Wolf Capital of theWorld?

3)Do differences in attitudes exist among various groups within the community(general, youth, Aboriginal, male, female)?

4)Do the attitudes of residents reflect the goals and actions of Spirit Way Inc?

 

Abrief summary of results follows:

•ATTITUDE: Residents of Thompson generally havea positive attitude toward wolves. Of the respondents, 65% say they “like” or “stronglylike” wolves and more than 70% say they “like” or “strongly like” the wolfstatues located in Thompson.

• VALUES: Residents of Thompson feel that wolves have great value. Of therespondents, 77% of residents believe it is important for wolves to exist inthe Thompson area for future generations and 67% of residents believe thatwolves are a part of the Thompson culture.

• BELIEFS: 50%believe that Thompson should be the “Wolf Capital of the World” while 34% ofrespondents are indifferent and 16% believe Thompson should not be the “WolfCapital of the World”.

37% believe that it should be possible to continue trappingwolves if Thompson were to become the “Wolf Capital of the World” while 58% ofrespondents believe that wolves should be completely protected in the Thompsonarea.

• Of the respondents, 74% believe that wolves can generateeconomic opportunities for local residents and 51% of residents agree thatThompson becoming “Wolf Capital of the World” would not be a waste of money.

• FEAR:

83% do not fear fortheir own personal health and safety regarding wolves.

RISK PERCEPTION

• 93% agree that ifwalking in the Thompson area, there is a low chance of being attacked by a wolfand 81% agree that the risk of being physically threatened by wolves inThompson is acceptably low.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

• 46% stated that theywould not donate their own money to support Thompson becoming the “Wolf Capitalof the World”. Interestingly, a large percentage of residents (approximately30%) were neutral and the remainder would donate their own monies to supportthe initiative.

Dr.Bath initially presented the results and preliminary findings to Spirit Way Inc.,City of Thompson, Chamber of Commerce, RD Parker Collegiate science studentsand at a public forum in Thompson in December, 2014. As a generalization, theresults reflected that 45-60% of the residents surveyed were slightly orstrongly in favor of all aspects of wolves and wolf initiatives, 20-30% wereneutral, and 5-15% were opposed.

PhaseTwo of Bonnie Bishop’s research will take place in the summer of 2015 and willfocus on Aboriginal and youth respondents that were under represented in thefirst research phase of the project. Data will be collected from visitors at keylocations within the community as well as on the train to Churchill. It will beinteresting to see how the opinions of these people align or differ from the Thompsongeneral public.

President Marion Morberg and the Spirit Way Inc Board wereencouraged by the first results. Morberg stated, “The strong survey resultsfrom the general public support our efforts to continue to become the WolfCapital of the World. We hope the 30% who are neutral will become supporters asthey see the economic and positive benefits for the region, and that we arepromoting and protecting wolves, which is not common in North America.”

An online copy of the complete survey results can be obtainedby contacting Spirit Way Inc. at thompsonspiritway@gmail.com.Any residents who have questions or comments are highly encouraged to contactBonnie Bishop directly by e-mail atthompsonwolfsurvey@gmail.com orvisit her Facebook page – MUN Thompson Wolf Research.

Spirit Way Inc is now seeking other funders and partners tosecure the balance of funding to complete the 2105 research.

It is planned for Bonnie Bishop to present her HD researchresults at The Wildlife Society Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba in October,2015 to a large international audience. This will highlight the strong level ofinterest and support for Thompson and region being recognized as the WolfCapital of the World. Spirit Way Inc. in partnership with Travel Manitoba willbe a major sponsor at this conference.

Spirit Way Inc.acknowledges the funding and support for the 2014 Human Dimensions research comingfrom numerous sources such as – Memorial University, Calm Air, Meridian Hotel,Parks Canada, Linda Markus, Partner4 Growth/Province of Manitoba, TourismSecretariat and Travel Manitoba. The communities of Thompson, Wabowden, and NisichawayasihkCree Nation provided letters of support.

Bonnie Bishop, Memorial University, St.John's, Newfoundland, CanadaBonnie Bishop, Memorial University, St.John’s, Newfoundland, Canada