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Battle of the NJ Bear Hunt Polls

When the Humane Society announced a poll this week that showed New Jersey residents opposed a bear 44% to 41%, it kicked out a discussion of whether the results are really true. Different polls are all over the map. Hunters point to this 2004 poll saying 66% of New Jersey residents support hunting in general. But of course that’s not bear hunting (another poll shows approval of bear hunting at 47% nationwide).

grown black bearSo I asked the company that did the state poll–and which specializes in hunting-related surveys–about their full results. Mark Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, was nice enough to send me the links to two thorough surveys they did on New Jersey hunting attitudes and the way people view hunting different species.

Duda doubts this week’s poll results. “I’d have to see how the question was worded but that result would fly in the face of all other research,” he says. Indeed, the poll question does push. I wish they had just asked a straightforward question.

QUESTION: The state of New Jersey has protected black bears since 1970 with only two trophy hunts permitted in the past forty years. The state is now considering allowing hunters to kill up to 400 black bears. Do you support or oppose the hunting of black bears in New Jersey?

But the results fall in line almost exactly with a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind 2007 poll that also had 44% disapproving and 41% approving and that question was straightforward:

 Now lastly, thinking about bear hunting in New Jersey… in general, do you approve or disapprove of allowing a bear hunting season in New Jersey?

But they found that if they could skew results if they gave a preable that said scientists said there were too many bear and the were destroying private property. (See here)

Responsive Management just asks straight up if people approve or disapprove of hunting, fishing and trapping. They got 66% approve of hunting versus 28% disapprove (40% strongly approve, 26% moderately approve; 4% are on the fence; 6% moderately disapprove, 22% strongly disapprove and 4% don’t know).

I do find the language in Responsive Management’s write up of survey results a bit skewed toward the pro-hunting stance of their wildlife agency clients. They continually describe the belief that hunting may hurt an endangered species erroneous. In general, sure. But that doesn’t take into account wolves out west, condors and the general suspicion that wildlife departments that are funded by hunters skew what are supposed to be scientific results to promote hunting opportunities. (Hello, Wyoming.) But their 2004 survey questions aren’t biased and the poll is probably the most comprehensive we’ve got on attitudes towards hunting and wildlife in New Jersey. Their random phone survey found that:

7% of NJ residents consider themselves hunters
11% say someone in their household hunted in the last 5 years
40% thought the NJ wildlife division was using science as its primary guide
17% thought hunting and fishing were part of scientific management of species
39% thought they weren’t doing enough to protect wildlife (again, the language in the report minimizes this group)
50% daily access the internet (to me that seems like an older crowd, but their data says it’s not)

86% have no interest in hunting
75% wouldn’t even go if they didn’t need a license and a friend invited them

Aside from that, our biggest source of information is the 2006 National Survey of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife-Associated Recreational that says only 1% of New Jersey residents hunt, but 23%, or 1.5 million, like to watch wildlife.

Responsive Management also did a comprehensive, rigorous survey on national attitudes towards hunting different species. They found that 78% approved of hunting deer, but for black bear it fell to 47%.

Will we ever get a poll that all sides are satisfied is truly unbiased? Fox has its own poll. You’re never going guess what happened there. People who go to Fox News support the hunt. What are the odds? New Jersey hunting groups are getting out the word to vote on a poll. They’re saying the “antis” are trying to skew results, but I see many entreaties from all over the hunting world to vote pro-bear hunt.

Right now there seems to be little interest in balancing the interests of hunters and wildlife watchers according to their numbers or following any real science. Instead we have a system that if there’s a Republican governor, state biologists will find a way to hunt and if there’s a Democratic governor, they’ll find another way to control the population.  And they wonder why so many doubt the validity of their science?

Where to Go to See  Wildlife in the Northeast
Where to Go to See Bears

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