Dedicated to the social and political aspects–the so-called "human dimensions"–of wildlife management
We used the dataset on news media coverage about wolves to explore the question of how a society’s experience with wolves affects news media coverage. After classifying nearly 30,000 statements about wolves as either positive or negative, we grouped all of the statements we coded into one of three categories: (1) states and provinces with permanent wolf populations, (2) states with “new” wolf populations (i.e., populations established since the passage of the ESA either via reintroduction or recolonization), and (3) states and provinces without wolves.
The first figure (below) shows the trend in news coverage (specifically, negative expressions per article) over time in these three groups. Results show no significant trend in negative expressions per article among states and provinces with permanent population nor among states and provinces without wolves. States with new wolf populations, on the other hand, demonstrated a significant increase in negative expressions per article. Moreover, states with new populations exhibited more negative expressions per article (second figure). These results suggest the increase in negative news media coverage over time is being driven primarily by states with new wolf populations.
In our original analysis, we hypothesized that states with new wolf populations would have more negative news media coverage due to the novelty associated with the return of this species and a heightened perception of risk on the part of the population. However, an alternate explanation exists for these data. All of the states and provinces with permanent wolf populations also have reduced protections for wolves (the only state with a permanent population that is protected under the ESA is Minnesota, and wolves there are listed as threatened). Another explanation for our findings is that the negative press is related to the degree of control that states/citizens have over wolf populations; specifically, as control decreases under the ESA, perception of risk increases leading to more negative attitudes and media coverage. A final explanation deals with differing cultures; anti-government sentiment in the Rocky Mountain West make wolves a perfect surrogate issue for those seeking to promote anti-federalism and states’ rights issues. Unfortunately, they data we’ve collected thus far don’t allow us to explicitly address these issues.