Support for the Endangered Species Act remains strong even as the Trump administration moves to undermine it

Yesterday the Trump administration announced a proposal that would dramatically weaken protections provided by the Endangered Species Act.  Fortuitously, my colleagues and I also happened to publish a paper on public support for the Endangered Species Act over time.  This paper also addresses concerns raised by some conservationists who worry that prolonged protections for controversial species such as gray wolves may undermine support for the Act, and the species it protects (spoiler alert: our data suggest they do not).

To read the technical paper, published in the journal Conservation Letters, follow this link: Support for the U.S. Endangered Species Act over time and space: Controversial species do not weaken public support for protective legislation.  If you’d rather read the “Cliff Notes” version, we also published an article in The Conversation this morning summarizing the work; see: Support for the Endangered Species Act remains high as Trump administration and Congress try to gut it.







  1. Yvette Avatar

    This is a great reference for support of a strong ESA. It’s interesting that the Northern Rocky Mountains category has the highest percentage of support for ESA. In the section of the survey that asked about trust in the USFWS I wonder if there would be a more significant difference in who the categories/groups trust or don’t trust the FWS. For instance, if I were asked, “is trustworthy in their management of wildlife w/i the US”, my answer would probably be in the middle since I think it’s likely the management of wildlife is based more on politics than on their expertise. I trust the field and professional people but am much less trusting of the administrators who direct the policy. Someone who is much more politically conservative than me may equally lack trust but for opposite reasons.

    Interesting, but certainly not surprising to me, that the average citizens have little to no influence while the economic elites and groups representing business interests have substantial impact on policy.

    ^^^^^ Thank you. I will be tweaking a pp presentation on environmental and ecological justice where I use that information and study to support one of my key points.

    What a timely study. Glad you guys did this work. The information is definitely beneficial.

  2. Shannon Avatar

    The “American’s support for the U.S. Endangered Species Act” graph says it all. Thanks for posting this, we need more people showing the majority opinion when special interest groups skew an issue. Interesting research!

  3. Mat-ters Avatar

    JB, “We used data from a 2014 survey (n = 1,287) of U.S. residents and recent polls to assess how public support for the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) changed over time, and whether protecting controversial species affects support for the law.”

    “Recent” is 2015 recent? Especially, considering the relisting in the great lakes took place in Dec 2014.

    I found some suggestions on the web for questions to ask in your next survey…..

    The clam lake elk herds number one cause of mortality is death from being eaten by wolves. The un-natural protection of wolves has resulted in suppressed elk population that according to science will remained suppressed unless wolves are reduced. Do you support thinning the wolf population to boast the suffering herd until they recover to sustainable numbers?

    As wolves move into poorer and poorer habitat they become extremely susceptible to depredation and habituation issues. Do you support managing wolves so they remain in better habitat at managed levels instead of setting them up for failure at a huge cost to the taxpayer?

    Wisconsin has CWD issues in some deer management units mostly in the Madison WI area. Some game managers knowingly suggest that wolves could be a solution to the issue or turn a blind eye to those in the media suggesting so EVEN THOUGH they know that those areas are extremely poor habitat for wolves. Do you support reprimanding state officials at educators that knowingly mislead the public and turn a blind eye to “fake news” on wolves?

    …… thought you would be interested.

    1. rork Avatar

      “un-natural” eh? Where I live (MI) wolves killing deer is thought to be a pretty ancient practice, not that I’m saying arguments from nature hold much weight with me. Not clear what “sustainable” means when you say it either. Are you implying elk will go extinct? I’d be skeptical.
      Also, ESA is not just about wolves. My support for ESA hardly means I think wolves can be everywhere, and I don’t think ESA will ultimately be found to say that either. I agree the balance there is difficult, and I don’t think it has been “solved”. I expect wolves will continue to be delisted in places, or declared outside the ESA by congress (like in great lakes area). So I don’t feel the need to alter the ESA language just for wolves. ESA tried to cover everything – and perhaps that doesn’t work perfectly. So we tweak management of the species.
      Wolves are a very particular, unusual example. Trumpter swan and Kirtland’s warbler near me are more classic. For the first we stop killing them and work on removal of feral semi-domesticate alien mutes. Poof, they come back. For warbler it cost us a bit more – we now manage state and US forest to hold some of their preferred habitat again, rather than having it all be monoculture tree plantations that look like we are growing corn, and which were hideous deserts for plants and wildlife.

    2. Moose Avatar

      DNR says nothing of dwindling Clam Lake elk numbers. They cite “steady growth” on their website.

      1. Mat-ters Avatar

        Moose, I said absolutely NOTHING about a “dwindling” herd. The 150 to 180 stagnant population has been that size for over a DECADE. Surely, anyone that knows anything about elk and elk populations know full well that the calf recruitment is “unhealthy” accord to long standing management cognizance! The elk hunt this year is an appeasement to buy time to finally get delisting through. I’m sure the $340,000.00 that the sportsman put in the pot will go un-noticed and unappreciated here.

        Something to comtemplate…….The double standards with regards to “endangered” species is entertaining. Comparing the elk and the wolf in the context of “endangered” one could make a more compelling case that elk in WI and the surrounding area are even more endangered than the wolf….. Do we see HSUS wearing elk on their sleeve next to the “donate now” button?? Entertaining isn’t it!

      2. Nancy Avatar


        “Reality of it is that 80 percent of the elk herd is on private land now,” Goetzka said, explaining that the $10,000 maximum claim in a year is hardly a drop in the bucket considering the cost of inputs and other expenses incurred on a farm.

        I don’t see any of these groups who contributed to bring the elk here willing to give a good portion of their livelihood to keep the elk here.”

        1. Mat-ters Avatar

          THAT is an elk herd that needs to be hunted ASAP isn’t it Nancy! Taking elk from ONLY the 80 percent will SOON turn it around.

    3. Jeremy B. Avatar
      Jeremy B.

      “‘Recent’ is 2015 recent? Especially, considering the relisting in the great lakes took place in Dec 2014.”

      – If you read the study in its entirety, you would note that polls were conducted in 1996, 2011, 2014 and 2015. The 2015 poll showed the least amount of opposition to the ESA (significantly lower than the 1996 study). Moreover support, is statistically indistinguishable across the polls. Given the two decade time-span of the data, I think it is relatively safe to conclude that support for the ESA does not respond to specific listing actions and court decisions.


      “I found some suggestions on the web for questions to ask in your next survey…..”

      The items you provide appear to be those used in “push polls” –polls that use gathering data on public opinion as pretext to sway opinion, or to obtain data consistent with one’s objectives. So no, we would not use these items.

      1. Mat-ters Avatar

        I see…… and questions like the one below aren’t push questions? This one here looks like its trying to sway public opinion on Congressional oversight of their own law!
        “Some members of Congress are proposing legislation that would deny protections for individual species under the Endangered Species Act. Please indicate which of the following statements you agree with more.”
        A “Decisions about which species should or should not be protected under the Endangered Species Act should be made by Congress.”
        B “Decisions about which species should or should not be protected under the Endangered Species Act should be science-based and made by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists.”
        C “Don’t know”
        That makes me laugh!
        Something to think about. The push question above got a18% b71% c11% in 2015 The Michigan vote got something like a43% b47% c9% in 2018! With a PUSH question by HSUS on the ballet!

        1. Jeremy B. Avatar
          Jeremy B.

          You can laugh all you like, but I wouldn’t use the item you provided either, precisely because people such as yourself would view it as biased.

          In any case, if I recall correctly, the Michigan vote was about whether wolves should be hunted under state law–it had nothing to do with whether and how the US Congress should be involved in the (de)listing of species. So I suppose that I don’t really see how they’re connected?

          BTW, all of the interest groups (unfortunately) use push polls– including the political parties. I actually collect them as examples of how survey research gets misused.

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    You have to blame the news media for associating the ESA solely about wolves too – when the news hit, there was an accompanying picture of a wolf, but not any other animals that the ESA protects. You really have to wonder what side the media is on at times. Under the Obama administration, changes were proposed too, as you noted. As a way to avoid a full-fledged assault on the ESA, by compromise. But as we have seen, compromise will never work when the goal of one group is to eliminate the ESA and destroy years of bringing back endangered animals such as wolves and grizzlies. All of the cheering and patting each other on the back for negotiating by Obama’s Interior about ‘collaborative efforts’ amounted to nothing.

    To make things easier for the poor, strapped, put-upon energy industry and ranching and farming. Making money hand-over fist all the while, or getting government tax breaks, cheap grazing, and reimbursements for losses.

    I appreciate this JB, and I want to think more about it.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      I should add – compromise and negotiate by the last administration as the highest goal (all about people again), but never stand up for or draw a line in the sand for already overly-indulged industries. How much left is there to give away?

    2. Kathleen Avatar

      Here’s a nice example of the media mentioning animals other than wolves (although this editorial from the NYTimes editorial board does mention wolves also):

      “Individual species aside, the act’s habitat requirements have also produced great gains for ecosystems as a whole. A succession of inconspicuous birds listed as endangered or threatened — the spotted owl, the marbled murrelet, the coastal California gnatcatcher — has saved millions of acres of old growth forest and open space along the Pacific Coast from logging and commercial development. Efforts to save the wood stork and Florida panther have helped nourish the Everglades.”

  5. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Mat-ters, you completely ignore the attempts by people to wipe out wolves entirely, from the time Europeans first set foot on this continent. Elk are a desired species by humans, wolves are not. Elk number decline has more to do with habitat loss and confinement to smaller areas than predation. There never has been a killing bounty on animals other than predators, who compete for elk and deer that humans want, or that interfere with cattle ranching.

    The entire tone of your post speaks of it.

    People cannot be objective when deciding the fates of other creatures.

    1. rork Avatar

      ” There never has been a killing bounty on animals other than predators”.
      The blood-thirsty Nutria immediately comes to mind. There were bounties on finches and sparrows in parts of Europe because of thatch roof damage. There have been bounties on ground squirrels, rabbits, and pigs too.
      Please learn how to use the reply button.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        I realize that, but what I meant was the kind of hatred and bounties on wolves and coyotes is unique, a mixture of religious beliefs, superstition and dominance over the land and its resources. I’d say human impressions of rattlesnakes come close.

        I was only talking about the US at the time of colonization; but you’re right, all that in Europe was brought over too.

        Don’t know what you mean about the reply button.

  6. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Ugh. There’s a scene from the film “The New World” of a European boot setting foot on a pristine beach. What a dark day that must have been.

    But we can still protect what’s left by keeping the ESA and other environmental laws strong, as well as better support of indigenous people, who seem to get lost in the shuffle of today’s politics.

  7. Mat-ters Avatar

    Ida, ‘”destroy” years of bringing back endangered animals such as wolves and grizzlies’ What planet do you live on? That looks like a headline for the HSUS web site.

    The bobcat now resides in EVERY county of WI …. through management and thanks to sportsman! But, …. they will kill off all the wolves!

    Are you the type of person old Wayne Pacelle used to liked to take advantage of while making his millions….?
    From what the press was saying…that’s not all he took advantage of!

  8. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    When I say predator I mean in the traditional meaning of the word, not an animal that has simply become inconvenient, like a sparrow or a squirrel eating farmer’s grain or damaging a thatched roof. A carnivore, an animal that hunts the same prey that humans consider all ‘theirs’.

    1. Mat-ters Avatar

      There is absolutely no difference between someone protecting their grain or someone protecting their livestock / game herd or protecting their blueberry marsh from elk. Unless its the view of a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions than theirs. Ida, this intolerance you constantly display has no bases in history…none. To think that wolves/coyotes lived without persecution by man before “white man” arrived is baseless and lacking in thought. For goodness sakes, they lived with dogs as pets and lived an outdoor life with children. Do you think your intolerance is rooted in hatred for sportsman and ranchers?

      1. Mat-ters Avatar

        Ida, Do you think JB’s latest 2015 survey rehash reflects other evidence like the 2/3 vote for all Michigan UP residence FOR the wolf hunt or the fact that NOW 30 WI county boards passed resolution siding with the science in the current states wolf management plan?

        1. Jeremy B. Avatar
          Jeremy B.

          “…2/3 vote for all Michigan UP residence FOR the wolf hunt…”

          For your consideration: approximately 3% of Michigan’s population resides in the upper peninsula.

      2. Kathleen Avatar

        “Wolves have been feared, hated, and persecuted for hundreds of years in North America. Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans incorporated wolves into their legends and rituals, portraying them as ferocious warriors in some traditions and thieving spirits in others. European Americans, however, simply despised wolves. Many, including celebrated painter and naturalist John James Audubon, believed wolves ought to be eradicated for the threat they posed to valuable livestock. This attitude enabled a centuries-long extermination campaign that nearly wiped out the gray wolf in the continental United States by 1950.”

      3. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        I don’t know of any tribe that had a government-sponsored and approved eradication program against wolves, do you?

        They may have hunted them, but they did not have the same view of them as the European settlers did. There’s a huge difference, I think.


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.

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Jeremy Bruskotter