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Abstract (Summary)

In Massachusetts both human and beaver population levels are rising, beaver damage complaints are escalating, and beaver management options are restricted by the 1996 Wildlife Protection Act. Employing the Cognitive Value Hierarchy, this study enhances understanding of the public's value orientations, attitudes, and norms regarding human-beaver conflicts in Massachusetts.

A mailback questionnaire was sent to a random sample of 5,563 residents in three geographic regions in Massachusetts and to residents who submitted a beaver complaint to MassWildlife in 1999/2000 (47.3% overall response rate).

Results indicate that respondents believe beaver are an important part of the natural environment and they have a right to exist. Respondents also support some form of beaver management. Most respondents believe that beaver-related damage in Massachusetts has either increased or remained the same over the past five years, and indicated a preference for fewer beaver, regardless of experience with beaver damage. Respondents' attitudes are influenced by their experience with beaver damage, perceptions of extent of beaver damage, and tolerance of beaver. As severity of beaver damage was perceived to increase, respondents were more willing to accept lethal management/control of beaver. Respondents characterized by a "wildlife-use" orientation expressed a greater willingness to accept lethal action in response to beaver activity than respondents characterized by a "wildlife-protection" orientation. This relationship was partially mediated when respondents believed beaver damage had increased and/or they preferred to see fewer beaver in Massachusetts. Value orientations proved to be predictive of both attitudes and norms, thus validating the propositions of the Cognitive Value Hierarchy.

Results confirm the importance of understanding and monitoring public attitudes, norms, perceptions, and tolerance in a longitudinal framework and coupling this information with biological data to determine trends in relation to increases in beaver populations and human-beaver conflicts. The concepts and causal relationships posed by the Cognitive Value Hierarchy can provide information to link attitudes, norms, and values of wildlife stakeholder groups with socially acceptable management strategies. Replicating, expanding, and applying this framework to other wildlife species, and in different socio-political environments, can enhance the effectiveness and applicability of this theoretical perspective in understanding and resolving complex human-wildlife conflicts.

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Last modified: June 30, 2012