The cognitive dimensions of a biological hazard: A study of livestock predation in British Columbia within a hazards framework




Wilkerson, Orland Lee

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This study focuses on the cognitive dimensions of two important aspects of the predator-livestock problem in British Columbia: the concrete coping strategies adopted by individual livestock producers and the institutional responses adopted by, or available to, the Provincial Wildlife Branch. The threat posed to domestic stock by wild predators is conceptualized as a biological hazard, and the advantages of this approach are discussed. A conceptual framework integrating theoretical insights from geography, social psychology, psychology, and political science is developed. Several hypotheses are derived from this framework, and a number of these are linked to form two conceptual models, one designed for an analysis of ranchers' cognitions, the other for the examination of nonranchers' cognitions. Both models relate several cognitive variables to the perceived acceptability of a number of lethal methods of wolf control. These variables include: ecological orientation (as measured by the New Environmental Paradigm Scale); attitudes towards wolves; and perceptions of the wolf threat. Two mail survey questionnaires were developed, one (Version A) for nonranchers, the other (Version B) for ranchers. Version A was satisfactorily completed by a total of 574 respondents: 259 from the city of Victoria; 95 from Williams Lake; 87 from Kamloops; and 133 from the Northwest Wildlife Preservation Society (NWWPS). The data from the three urban samples were combined to form a "general public" sample. Version B was completed by 283 ranchers. Questionnaire data were supplemented by the content analysis of several relevant documents and informal interviews with selected personnel from the B.C. Wildlife Branch, the ranching community, and a number of wildlife interest groups. A variety of statistical techniques, including simple correlation, multiple regression, analysis of covariance, and discriminant analysis, were used to analyze the data. The analyses provided strong support for most of the hypotheses. Several of the more important findings are noted here. For all three sample groups (general public, ranchers, and NWWPS), significant relationships were found between ecological orientation and attitudes towards wolves; between attitudes towards wolves and perceptions of the threat that wolves pose to individual cattle producers and the cattle industry as a whole; between attitudes towards wolves and the acceptability of certain lethal wolf control measures; and for nonranchers, between attitudes towards wolves and the perceived humaneness of lethal wolf control, and between the perceived humaneness of lethal wolf control and the acceptability of lethal wolf control. A number of variables exhibited significant differences across the groups: ecological orientation; attitudes towards woIves; and perceptions of the wolf, coyote, and bear threats. Several management implications suggested by the research are discussed and a number of policy recommendations and suggestions for further research are offered.



Predatory animals, British Columbia, Wolves, control, British Columbia