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Factors Influencing Trust in a Wildlife Management Agency: A Case Study of Deer Management in Bloomington, Indiana

Eric Knackmuhs, James R. Farmer

Abstract


Overpopulation of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is an increasingly common challenge for natural resource managers, especially in the Northeast, Great Lakes, and Midwest regions of the United States. Despite the pervasiveness of the issue, satisfactory resolution remains elusive for many parks, communities, and natural areas. Frequently, social concerns and ecological conditions deteriorate to the point where lethal management techniques are recommended to reduce numbers quickly. However, implementing lethal management strategies to reduce overabundant white-tailed deer populations frequently engenders contentious debate, in part because trust in the managing agency is often low. In such cases, implementation challenges shift from managing deer to affecting and managing public opinion. The purpose of this case study was to examine factors that influence trust in the City of Bloomington (IN) government to properly manage the deer population at a city-owned nature preserve. Results indicated that positive evaluation of the decision-making process and positive evaluation of the science that informed decisions predicted trust in the local city government, while age and preference for hunting predicted distrust. Support for the proposed sharpshooting policy and citizen involvement in the issue, measured by the number of personal and civic actions taken, were not significant predictors of trust in the city. Citizens’ source of information on the issue influenced their evaluation of the science. Specifically, when the local newspaper was the primary source of information, respondents were more likely to agree with the conclusions of a scientific study city managers used to illustrate the deer overpopulation. We recommend natural resource managers identify and use trusted communicators to engage with the public on controversial policies. Trust should be considered a prerequisite to implementation of new policies, controversial or otherwise.

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Keywords


Citizen trust; public involvement; park management; natural resource management; urban deer management; public opinion

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.18666/JPRA-2017-V35-I3-7408

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