Recent discussions about how wolves are portrayed in the news media got me thinking about public attention to this issue, generally.  Is the wolf issue heating up or cooling down following their removal from federal protections?  I used Google Trends, a tool for examining the content of web searches over time to see how issue salience has changed over time.  Despite increases in searches related to wolf harvest in recent years, the overall trend in searches about wolves is downward–suggesting decreased interest in the issue.  It is important to point out that the overall trend was going downward before wolves were removed from ESA protections; indeed, if the removal had any effect it all it was to increase harvest related searches.  These data suggest that the removal of wolves from federal protections did not make the issue any less salient; rather, it appears to have increased public interest.  Also of interest, the data suggest the vast majority of searches are coming out of states with wolves–mostly in the northern Rockies (the volume of searches coming out of New York state, for example, is just 3% of those originating from Montana).  These data suggest the wolf issue is still largely of local/regional interest, as opposed to national.  A more thorough analysis and write up is available here.

fig5

1. The blue line shows search volume for general search terms: “wolf facts”+”gray wolf facts”+”grey wolf”+”the gray wolf”+”canis lupus”+”gray wolf”+”gray wolves”

2. The red line shows search volume for harvest-related terms: “wolf harvest”+”wolf hunt”+”wolf hunting”+”hunting of wolves”+”hunting wolves”+”wolf hunting season”+”wolf trapping”+”trapping wolves”+”trap wolves”+”wolf trapping season”

 
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About The Author

Jeremy Bruskotter

Dr. Jeremy Bruskotter is an associate professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at the Ohio State University where his research interests are centered around the human dimensions” of wildlife conservation and management. Jeremy is passionate about wildlife–at one time or another, he has called himself hunter, angler, and wildlife photographer. Most of all, Jeremy is concerned with bringing the tools and techniques of the social sciences to bear on pressing issues in wildlife management.

75 Responses to Is interest in wolves waning?

  1. avatar Louise Kane says:

    JB I think this backs up one of my theories, that many people do not know that wolves are being voraciously hunted, trapped and killed. Its going to take some national media event to expose the atrocities toward wolves. The lack of searches may also be indicative of the issue thats been discussed here many times before, the more habitat, wildlife, natural resources that are lost the less people are exposed to them, the less they appreciate what is lost.

    did you also do searches of national parks, yellowstone etc because of the correlation between visitors coming to see the wildlife in the park. Perhaps they are also searching within those websites. Finally does google trends also look at other browsers like safari, firefox etc….there are a lot of browsers out there.

  2. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    I was not surprised by the wolf killing zeal out West after the delisting – but I was terribly disappointed to see the Great Lakes follow suit, and even worse. I hope they realize what a mess they have created.

  3. avatar Snaildarter says:

    There is a lot of controversy about night hunting of hogs and coyotes in North Carolina and red wolves getting killed in error. Personally I think night hunting is a really bad idea, but if you can sell folks night vision equipment there will be supporters of the idea.

  4. avatar Immer Treue says:

    JB,

    Methinks the general public has more pressing issues than wolves, they followed wolf issues until delisting, and that was that.

    Those yet involved, on either side ofthe fence, are still fully engaged. I don’t see as many “articles” about wolves, such as the once lightning roddish NewWest that brought all matters of debate, or argument.

    Wolves have been delisted. Now the new scrum match is the extent of management. I would think this issue will yo-yo for quite some time. The only thing protecting wolves now is that more folks are involved in the wolf issue than the early 1900’s. There exists enough pressure to prevent wolf extirpation, and I only see this ratcheting up.

    MN is a prime example of the political pressure being thrown into the wolf issue by advocacy groups like those lead by Maureen Hackett, where lawmakers are introducing a bill to reinstall the five year waiting period.

    In yesterday’s Ely Timberjay, there was an interview with David Mech that tickled many of the issues of wolves, one of which was the suggestion that the BWCAWA could be off limits to wolf hunting. I have brought this up a number of times as all the arguments to hunt/trap wolves were used in MN: livestock depredation; pet depredation; killing all the deer; killing all the moose; threat to people; and the ubiquitous kids at bus stops.

    The BWCAWA has: no livestock; pets only brought in by outdoors enthusiasts; accessibility is very limited during the deer season; there are no bus stops; and wolves were never extirpated in this area.

    The general aura of wolves may have lost a bit of luster to those who have followed the issue, but those of us who are involved, and prepared to exert pressure/influence will not fade away.

  5. avatar savebears says:

    While the wolf issue has been very prevalent in the regions that it is mainstream, I still maintain as a whole, the majority of the country is not aware and many really don’t care. I think you could go to any major population center in the US and you will find very little information or interest in wolf and other wildlife issues.

    • avatar sleepy says:

      I think many people have more or less “hunkered down” as a result of the ongoing recession and a pessimistic view of the future in general. Unfortunately, time and energy is more limited and more focused on individual circumstances.

  6. Louise writes:

    “The lack of searches may also be indicative of the issue thats been discussed here many times before, the more habitat, wildlife, natural resources that are lost the less people are exposed to them, the less they appreciate what is lost.”

    Very insightful point and seamlessly consistent with Salle’s point made several months ago in re: his analogy:

    “think Native Americans, bison, and railroads and the “public losing the argument” before they even know there is an argument to be had.

    I wonder whether the lack of awareness is greatest among the “working class” in far away states (e.g. Indiana) or in the still sparsely populated Northern Rockies where people (who have not had the chance to see the intense ugliness west of the Rockies) are spoiled by being surrounded by so much natural beauty (including of course its wild residents) it is take it for granted.

    Any thoughts anyone?

    • avatar savebears says:

      Valerie,

      I live west of the rockies, right in the area you are talking about, I can assure, we don’t take the beauty for granted, we appreciate it every single day, and we are very aware of the issues that happen here.

      I simply don’t think the majority of those living in far away places really care much, except for those couple of week vacations they take, or the hour or two they might watch one of the channels on TV that show this area.

      But honestly, I don’t think the majority even think about it on a monthly basis, let alone daily. They have far more important things to deal with It is just not important to those that have real lives to live and issues to deal with, such as how to get to work, how to even get work, putting food on the table, cloths on their kids backs. etc.

      It is important to those of us that actually pay attention, most don’t pay attention and don’t have reason to.

      • avatar Leslie says:

        Seems to me that in my backpacking and wanderings around the GYE, some of the ardent interested people in the wolf issues, as well as our landscape health in general, are Europeans. Although they might not know the intricacies of all the issues (there are so many including wolves) they really appreciate what we have because they lost it so long ago.

        • avatar savebears says:

          Leslie,

          On the other side of that debate, I have read and heard from many that Europeans take such an interest when they are here, is because they don’t have to deal with it when they go home.

          Now I am not saying I agree or disagree, just offering a different take on things that I have heard.

          Of course it is the same thing I hear from people that live back east in the high population areas.

          • avatar JB says:

            Actually, Europe has “robust” wolf populations despite much higher human densities. The Europeans could teach us a thing or two about “tolerance” for wildlife.

            • avatar savebears says:

              JB,

              Europe, may have a robust population of wolves, but the population of humans are not exposed the same way as we are here in America. There have been many links posted on here about The “tolerance” in Europe, it does not sound much different there than it is here.

              • avatar Jeff N. says:

                SB,

                Can you please elaborate on your following statement:

                “Europe, may have a robust population of wolves, but the population of humans are not exposed the same way as we are here in America.”

              • avatar savebears says:

                Jeff,

                I spent a lot of time in Europe, they don’t camp and experience the wildlands the way we do, there is far less of it, and it is not the same as it is here in the US.

                It was amazing how many people, I actually introduced to camping in the years I was in Germany, many of them didn’t even think to go out in the woods and actually sleep over night.

              • avatar savebears says:

                By the way Jeff, how much time have you spent in Europe?

              • avatar savebears says:

                Anyway, have work to do, I simply expressed my take on things, but I can see where this is going, so talk to you all later.

              • avatar Jeff N. says:

                Christ SB…..you are a defensive SOB. I simply wanted you to give a little more detail in regard to that statement.

                And yes I’ve been to Europe….

              • avatar JB says:

                “… but the population of humans are not exposed the same way as we are here in America.”

                Hmm… are you aware of a lot of attacks because of this exposure?

              • avatar savebears says:

                Jeff,

                Yes at times, I am very defensive, it comes from experience. I think ever single one of us is on the defensive at times when commenting on these blogs.

                JB,

                No, I am not aware of any increase in wolf attacks, I never said that was an issue. Injecting “wolf attacks” into this particular thread really has nothing to do with the interest in wolves, you should know better JB.

              • avatar Jeff N. says:

                SB,

                Yes everyone is defensive on this blog sometimes while you seem to defensive all the time.

                Your generalizations regarding many things probably make you that way because when you are pressed for detail or further explanation, and you can’t provide any, you tend to react that way.

              • avatar savebears says:

                Bull shit Jeff, in your opinion, but based on the many emails I get, you are in the minority.

              • avatar Jeff N. says:

                SB,

                See, there you go…again

                Can you elaborate on the “emails” statement please?

                And I thought you had work to do.

              • avatar JB says:

                “No, I am not aware of any increase in wolf attacks, I never said that was an issue. Injecting “wolf attacks” into this particular thread really has nothing to do with the interest in wolves, you should know better JB.”

                I do know better, SB. I was trying to figure out what you meant by “exposed”. If you weren’t referring to human vulnerability to attacks when you said, “humans are not exposed the same way as we are here in America” then what were you referring to?

              • avatar JB says:

                SB:

                To follow up– “exposed” to me denotes a quantifiable risk from a particular hazard. You’re essentially arguing that the risk is higher in the US because of human behavior. But I don’t know of a single, documented attack of wolves on campers/backpackers in the US, whereas Europe has a long history of wolf attacks…so it would seem that any effect of exposure on human tolerance is outweighed by cultural factors. Note: I would add that your comment assumes cultural homogeneity across Europe–and eastern Europe, which also has large wolf populations. In my experience, Europe is far more heterogeneous than the US.

              • avatar savebears says:

                JB,

                We are not talking about the same thing, my comment was in no way to imply threat or a higher degree of hazard. That was not what I was saying. The access to wolves is different here in the states, when I was in Europe, I didn’t hear people saying they were going to pack up the family truckster and go watch wolves.

              • avatar Mareks Vilkins says:

                I spent a lot of time in Europe, they don’t camp and experience the wildlands the way we do

                +++

                when you write ‘Europe’ you should clarify that you are talking about Western part of Europe

                in Eastern Europe a lot of people go outdoors, are rafting and sleep in tents for days in summer + gathering wild berries and mushrooms is kind of national sport

            • avatar savebears says:

              Jeff,

              When it comes down to it, no answer I give you, when your request me to elaborate is correct or informative, you bear in like a dog on a bone. I honestly know, that there is no answer I can provide to your requests that will satisfy you, after this amount of time, you get a pretty good idea of what the course of a conversation is going to be by certain individuals.

              • avatar savebears says:

                So with that, good night Jeff, I have to finish up a new walk in closet for my wife, if I don’t get this done, she is going to take my computer away.

              • avatar savebears says:

                No, I cannot elaborate on the emails, I don’t care to elaborate to anything you request.

              • avatar JEFF E says:

                SB,
                could I get your e-mail

              • avatar savebears says:

                Jeff, if you want my email, Ralph has my ok to give it to you. Ask him and reference this thread

          • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

            Too many people in places of low population density fail to appreciate that they may live in an area of natural beauty, and often they do not appreciate the unique wildlife that surrounds them. I think this is due to number of things, but including a failure to receive more than a parochial education. This lack of education is not just the result of economic necessity. It is often deliberate. We are seeing this more and more lately in places like Idaho where public education is under full attack and teachers had better not contradict the views of the local ruling class.

            Regarding wolves one result is there is no relationship (I think) between human population density (if we exclude frankly urban areas) and how well wolves fare as part of the local wildlife. Please note that hostility to wolves is much stronger in the more rural Western states, especially the rural parts.

            Because empirical evidence shows wolves to be the least dangerous (to people) of the large predators, they have as good prospects outside of the three rural Western states where the original experimental reintroduction took place as inside. This conclusion is not intuitive, but I think actual evidence might prove it correct.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        I can tell you SB that as a young person growing up in a more urbanized area – I could not wait to visit wild, unspoiled areas and I was not disappointed when I did. I fell madly in love with them. I can certainly agree that perhaps Europeans and people back East didn’t know what they had until it was gone. Cities are great – but they aren’t all there is.

        • avatar savebears says:

          Ida,

          I am not saying I was not the same way you were. There days, kids are not exposed to it like we were, they have many distractions that we couldn’t even imagine in those days. The books I read, were all about the outdoors, I spent evenings in camp reading Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, Where the Red Fern Grows, etc.

          Many kids now a days, play War games, worry about smart phones, see blood and guts on prime time. I have seen a major shift in my time.

          • avatar Ida Lupine says:

            Yes very true. We were outside a lot as children, and I am very grateful. I do think is important to kids out there to see and enjoy it. It’s almost something you’re born with as a child and should be encouraged. Even to go out and enjoy farmlands.

            If Europe is now more tolerant of wolves, it’s a hard won battle for the wolves. Europe is the original driver-outer of them, due to superstition and myth. I don’t think Norway and Sweden have high populations of them, nor are they tolerant of them. Place that are inhospitable to human life may have robust populations, but rural areas still don’t welcome them.

            • avatar Ida Lupine says:

              I should say ‘governments’. Individual people see wolves and wildlife in different ways – but the governments don’t necessarily reflect what the people want or think, as we well know.

              I’m off too – talk to you all later! :)

          • avatar Robert R says:

            This is exactly why I get criticized so much on my opinions. I grew up in the country and have been in the mountains my whole life. Most of my opinions are based on real life experiences.

            • avatar Immer Treue says:

              Robert R,

              Don’t know if you saw it on the last rendition of Have you seen… But that little “memo” was not intended for you. My apology if you took it that way.

    • avatar Elk275 says:

      My thoughts

      Goggle the “The People of Walmart” do these people really care about wolves, wildlife, the west, national parks or wilderness areas. They do not think about it nor do they really care; there only care is the day to day struggle to survive.

      “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation….” Henry David Thoreau

      Things have not changes since Thoreau penned those words at Walden Pond over one hundred and fifty years ago nor are they going to change.

      • avatar JB says:

        “Things have not changes since Thoreau penned those words at Walden Pond over one hundred and fifty years ago…”

        Horse sh|t. When Thoreau penned Walden, life expectancy for a white person was approximately 40 years; it has nearly doubled today. Quiet desperation looks a bit different when you’re surfing cable channels at 75 in your heated and air-conditioned home (whether rented or owned) then when you were scrounging for food, living in a shack with a dirt floor and hoping to make it to 40.

        I like Walden too. My favorite quote is:

        “No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.

  7. avatar Mike says:

    There are more people outside of Montana that care about its wildlife and wilderness than those who live in Montana.

    Book that and don’t be late.

    • avatar Robert R says:

      Mike your so right because they don’t live in Montana but they want to dictate how things are managed.

      • avatar jerry says:

        i think that the wolf issue shoud be a national issue they are were part of national landscape befor european settlers came in.

    • avatar rork says:

      I recently read an Adirondacks history, where one of the land use greybeards commented that the locals are nearly never the cause of protecting wild things more. It’s outsiders of one kind or another.

      • avatar Mike says:

        That’s largely true.

        The reason is that locals are easily corrupted by local industry. If left to their own devices, nothing would be preserved, save for “condo lakes”. It doesn’t matter if you are in the Rockies, in California, or in Illinois (which is perhaps the most eviscerated state in the nation in terms of remaining wildlands).

    • avatar JB says:

      Mike:

      That’s an easy bet, as 99.999% of the human population resides outside of Montana. You might be interested in this (see link below); be sure to pay attention to the “regional interest”.

      http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=wilderness&geo=US&date=1%2F2004%20109m&cmpt=q

  8. avatar rork says:

    In Michigan we have lots of action (hunt regs soon, petition drive against) so I hope more people hear about the wolf issues, since they could use to learn more about it and perhaps become more aware of other outdoor debates.
    I worry that the timing of the petition (to not hunt wolves) is too early. After or during regulations being set, there might have been more coverage, and actual detailed regs might be easier to aim at. Right now you can only say there might be too many killed, the wrong ones, and with the wrong methods. I wish we had more years of experience from the west and MN too. The debate is too knotty by being so hypothetical, and is getting ridiculous on both sides. I think it’s more exciting now that it’s not just litigation. Then the law to permit hunting passed in lame duck and created little heat.
    Not sure if I mentioned that the opinion is rather common even among pro-hunt folks, that if the petition can get enough votes, wolf hunting will be overturned. Because city people will hear about it, and are numerous.

  9. Rork writes,

    Not sure if I mentioned that the opinion is rather common even among pro-hunt folks, that if the petition can get enough votes, wolf hunting will be overturned. Because city people will hear about it, and are numerous.

    My supposition is that you are correct because the tens of millions of educated “city people” who have the means to travel and/or take long vacations from hectic/decidedly trammeled city life, look at the Rockies (especially the northern Rockies) as their geography of hope’ which sustains them until they can get their three week hiatus from the job they endure for the time being.

    That’s why, as the late, great Gordon Haber wrote, wolves (who exemplify the migratory wild)with their “extraordinary intelligence, sentience, and expressiveness, MUST be given permanent, NATIONAL protection as a non-exploited species.

    • avatar rork says:

      “MUST be given permanent, NATIONAL protection”.
      How?

      In Michigan at least, I’d rather settle this by will of the more local people. It’s old-fashioned, where you simply try to convince people. Perhaps our situation is better suited than some other states to get a compromise I might be able to live with.

  10. avatar Harley says:

    Personally, I don’t think it’s a lack of empathy. I agree with the statements that there are more things on most people’s minds these days that are much more pressing such as trying to make ends meet. Also, there are other issues glaring on the front pages and headlines and in most news blogs about gun control and the battles in Washington. If the wolf issue were to hit the headlines, the national headlines, not just regional or state, I’m betting there would be a big increase in interest.

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      To me though, that implies a lack of empathy. Putting their own needs ahead of something else. Of course making ends meet, gun control, health care, etc. are important, but people can make their opinions known certainly about wildlife without taking time away from any of these things. It’s just not important to them.

      As far as those in the cities turning legislation around, what are they waiting for? 1074 wolves have been killed with more diabolical ways being thought up every day. The masses can jump in any time to stop it.

      I interpreted what SB meant by being ‘exposed’ as being taught or introduced to. It’s the same everywhere – outdoor activities aren’t valued anymore because for generations people don’t put the same importance on them. This is why tho I disagree vehemently many times with hunters, they do have the preservation of our wildlife and animals at their core, for the majority anyway. People that have not grown up with it generationally do not have the same feelings about it, as we can see.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        Sorry, ‘the preservation of wildplaces and wildlife’ is how that should read.

  11. avatar BobMc says:

    Interesting piece, Dr. Bruskotter, thank you for posting.

    I wonder whether Google searches are an accurate indicator of total interest, though, as opposed to an indicator of new people joining the fray? For instance, once I have found an interesting site, I tend to pull it from the history list, bookmark it, or type the URL from memory, as opposed to another web search.

    Additionally, social media such as Facebook makes it easier to follow issues of interest, again obviating the need to search out information via web searching.

    • avatar JB says:

      Thanks, Bob. You’re absolutely right. I look at google searches as an indicator of general interest (or interest outside of the “issue public”–people who already care). As you indicate, most of us who are already involved have established information sources; we need not seek them out. So these data are but one indicator of societal interest.

  12. avatar jerry says:

    If you have a dog you have a very small party of a wolf.

  13. avatar jerry says:

    if you have a dog you have relative of a wolf. the reason states kill wolves is local goverments pander to the local special intereste aka ranchers- if you like wolves and think they should be managed better then boycott that states products- money talks!

  14. avatar Peter Kiermeir says:

    Savebears
    A few words about wolf watching in western Europe. Could well be that during you stay in Europe you did nobody hear going wolf watching. There is not much sense of packing the pickup and go out into the woods wolf watching like in Yellowstone. Yes, there are wolves in Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and many other countries of e.g. former Yugoslavia. But, they are few and they are very elusive. Trouble is, wolf watching tours are offered, as are bear watching tours, but you will very, very rarely actually see one. And, yes there is of course a large potential of people going outdoors. And interest in wolves is on the uprise here in Europe if only for the reason that wolf populations are going strong! For a guaranteed wolf encouter the average wolf oriented european goes to Yellowstone.

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      I recall on my one trip to Denali National Park, I was surprised by how many folks I met from Germany, and to a lesser extent Japan, who were camping. This was in the late 80’s.

    • avatar Mark L says:

      There are plenty that want to see wolves (and bears) in Europe, but a lot don’t know where to look:
      http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=181437
      (thread dates from this month back to 2010)

      • avatar Peter Kiermeir says:

        That´s right, you really have to know where to go. My wife and me e.g. will go to the Asturias Region of northwestern Spain this autumn to look for bears and wolves. Just in case some of you want to travel to Europe one day for bear and wolf watching or a little bit of hiking: Just drop me a mail and let me know, I could share lot´s of infos for in many regions throughout Europe.

        • avatar JB says:

          Thanks for the offer, Peter. It will be a couple of years for me I’m afraid. But I would like to make it back for a visit when my sons are a bit older. :)

  15. avatar Kit S says:

    I am from a state with wolves and my interest is huge but my hope for the future of the wolf is dying. I think people in states without wolves think everything is fine and have no clue as to the new attempts to exterminate them, and that is clearly what these states’ ‘management’ policies are geared towards. I have written to many legislators in Washington, always comment to the Mt. Fish, Wildlife & Parks and it does nothing. It is very discouraging.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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