Issue #3: Values, Beliefs, and Attitudes
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Values, Beliefs, and Attitudes
Welcome to the third issue of Conservation in HD. In this first of a two-part series, we’ll take a look at how understanding values, beliefs, and attitudes can help practitioners better manage wildlife and their habitats by understanding behaviors of the public and key stakeholders. 

You may be thinking, “C’mon, I didn't get into this field to deal with all this touchy-feely stuff.” Actually, it’s not as touchy-feely as you may think! Aldo Leopold said, “The problem of game management is not how we should handle deer, the real problem is one of human management.” The reality of our jobs is that, in order to effectively manage wildlife and their habitats, we must first manage people. 

Just as understanding animal behavior helps scientists manage species, understanding people’s behavior can help encourage environmentally responsible behavior. But, it’s complicated; people’s behavior is influenced by many elements - their attitudes, beliefs, and values, as well as external sources including education, media, social interactions and pressures, and personal experiences. Social science helps us understand these elements and their connections, leading to better understanding of why people think and act like they do.

We hope to lay the foundation of values, beliefs, and attitudes for our subsequent issue on understanding and influencing behavior. Enjoy!

- Natalie

Natalie Sexton
Human Dimensions Branch Chief
Natural Resource Program Center


Human Dimensions Foundations of Natural Resource Conservation
October 4-9, 2014
Estes Park, Colorado
This training, offered by NCTC, is designed to foster a common understanding of key concepts, methods, and practical applications of human dimensions. There is still room if you are interested!

Transforming Conflict to Improve and Sustain Collaborative Decision Making
December 8-12, 2014
Offered through NCTC, this training will help participants identify factors that can lead to social conflicts among and between groups. Participants will implement strategies to engage diverse audiences, respond effectively to conflict, and strengthen relationships. 

Interagency Visitor Use Management Council website is live!
This new website is dedicated to increasing awareness of, and commitment to, proactive, professional, and science-based visitor use management on federally managed lands and waters. Six federal agencies, including FWS, collaborate on this council. 

A rose by any other name... 

The words we use are important! Whether a species is “endangered” or “threatened,” “venomous” or “poisonous,” “endemic” or “invasive” has meaning and implication. The same is true for the distinct, yet interrelated, terms that explain human thought processes and how we make decisions. Understanding the differences in values, beliefs, and attitudes allows us to better define resource issues, develop alternative ways to address them, and assess their social and cultural impacts.

Rokeach’s Cognitive Hierarchy (1968) is a useful model showing how values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are linked. In this model, concepts builds on each other, helping to predict what people do and why. 

VALUES are general, but enduring, conceptions of what is good or bad, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable. They develop slowly throughout the course of a lifetime and are relatively difficult to change. Examples of commonly held basic values include family, faith, freedom, security, honesty, and justice. Values can be expressed through laws that govern our behavior. For example, the Endangered Species Act reflects the value in our society of protecting species from extinction. Values can also be expressed through our orientations with wildlife, ranging from nature-centered to more human-centered. Many of the controversies surrounding public land management are grounded in values. To understand the controversy, we must understand the values of the people involved. 

BELIEFS are what people perceive to be true or false. Beliefs can be based on scientific information, feelings and intuition, or cultural norms. They can include facts, as well as misconceptions or incomplete truths and are directly influenced by our values. People have beliefs about ecosystems and how they function, the effectiveness of an agency, and the likelihood certain projects will lead to certain outcomes. Using wolves as an example, a few widely held beliefs about wolves (or assertions of fact about what wolves do) include: “Wolves kill livestock and pets and pose a threat to humans,” or “Wolves increase tourism and are a part of our natural heritage.” We are better able to design and implement management actions when we know what the public and key stakeholders believe to be true or false and why. 

ATTITUDES are tendencies to react favorably or unfavorably to a situation, individual, idea, or object. Because attitudes are often context-specific, they are more subject to change than values and beliefs. New experiences and information can change attitudes. For example, attitudes about wolves (or direct evaluations of wolves) include: “Wolves are bad, harmful killing machines,” or “Wolves are good, beautiful creatures.” Understanding attitudes is important because they directly predict and influence behavior. Also, attitudes influence support for specific management policies and practices.
Understand Wildlife Values

What motivates some people to feed wildlife even though it may be dangerous to the animal and themselves? Why do some people oppose lethal control of overpopulated species? It’s almost impossible to separate wildlife management from wildlife values. Several frameworks have been developed to describe how humans value wildlife and other natural resources. The wildlife value orientation construct describes deeply held beliefs about how humans relate to wildlife. These orientations can predict and explain fundamental differences in attitudes held toward wildlife issues.

According to one prominent study, wildlife values in the western US can be characterized into four distinct types (Teel, et al., 2005):
  • Utilitarians hold a philosophy that wildlife are for human use; these individuals are strongly positive toward hunting and fishing. 
  • Mutualists consider wildlife to be part of an extended family and believe in an ideal world where people and wildlife live side-by-side without fear. 
  • Pluralists have both utilitarian and mutualism value orientations. For pluralists, their wildlife value orientation may vary depending on the situation.
  • Distanced individuals are removed from the issue of wildlife. This could be because they are less interested in wildlife-related issues or their values are not oriented very strongly toward wildlife.  
This study shows that wildlife values in the western US states are changing. Results show a shift away from a utilitarian orientation, influenced by increased urbanization, affluence, and education. These trends affect participation in wildlife-related activities such as hunting and influence public perceptions of wildlife-related issues. 

This research can help explain reasons we've seen decreases in wildlife-related activities such as hunting and more people seem disconnected from wildlife. Understanding individuals' deeply held values toward wildlife can provide insights into their opinions and preferences on specific issues. 

Focus on Interests

We've seen the importance of understanding values in our wildlife conservation work. However, trying to change them is not only difficult, it may be misdirected. Values are central to our identities and, therefore, very slow and difficult to change. Our value orientations toward wildlife do not change often. While values do influence behavior, other factors including specific attitudes, media, personal experience, familiarity, and social norms may be stronger influences.

Focusing on finding common interests rather than trying to change values may be a better approach. Research has shown that, although people may have different values, their interests may overlap. The HD in Action article below highlights how Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge identified common interests, including water quality, among diverse stakeholders to inform their comprehensive conservation plan. 
HD in Action: Stories of Integration from the Field

Finding Common Interests Among Disparate Values in the Canaan Valley 
Ken Sturm

Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Tucker County, West Virginia, preserves 16,000 acres of wetlands, uplands, and wildlife habitat, and provides many types of wildlife-dependent recreation. After several years of rapid land acquisition and growth, refuge staff became aware that the perspectives and viewpoints of area residents and other stakeholders were not well known. 

In an effort to better understand stakeholders and their concerns, as well as to inform the comprehensive conservation planning process, Canaan Valley NWR partnered with social scientists from the USGS Fort Collins Science Center to conduct a stakeholder evaluation (Sexton, et al., 2005). The refuge recognized a need to clarify specific issues; obtain more information about stakeholder preferences; allow stakeholders to prioritize issues; gather input on why stakeholders prioritize issues as they do; and provide a meaningful engagement process for community residents and other stakeholders.

Stakeholders participated in an exercise called Q-Sort; they were asked to sort and rank statements (printed on small cards) representing key refuge issues of concern. These mostly verbatim statements were intended to mirror opinions of stakeholders and were drawn from 10 years of newspaper articles, refuge planning documents, and public comments. Key issues identified included watershed protection, recreation access, land acquisition, hunting, environmental education, economic development, and the public engagement process. 

Five prevailing perspectives that existed among stakeholders related to these key issues emerged from the exercise: 
  • Ecological Preservation;
  • Recreational Access;
  • Traditional Wildlife Management; 
  • Wildlife First, Recreation Second; and
  • Economic Development.

Further investigation revealed that these perspectives have a foundation in personal and social values, and represent why specific issues may be important to stakeholders. Managers at Canaan Valley NWR learned that although there were differences in values regarding land management between longtime residents and newcomers to the area, these two groups did share common interests. One unifying interest was water quality. It seemed that despite diverse stakeholder perspectives, everyone expressed that clean water was important, but, for VERY different reasons. Those coming from an ecological preservation perspective valued clean water for healthy ecosystems, while participants coming from an economic development perspective valued clean water for health benefits to surrounding communities and economic benefits to the housing market. Even though the motivations differed, all groups were able to agree that clean water was important for Canaan Valley. Identifying common interests was instrumental in setting the tone for subsequent meetings and moving forward smoothly and respectfully. Being aware of differing values while focusing on interests enabled refuge staff to anticipate and mitigate potential conflict. 

Participating in this process gave the refuge the opportunity to evaluate the multitude of issues refuge staff continually face when deciding how to guide future management decisions. The stakeholder engagement process played a role in Canaan Valley NWR’s nomination and receipt of the “Region 5 Outstanding Plan Award” in 2012. The refuge has benefited from understanding stakeholder values and focusing on common interests and will continue to keep an open, ongoing dialogue between the refuge and the public.

Ken Sturm worked as Canaan Valley NWR's lead wildlife biologist during the comprehensive conservation planning process and stakeholder research effort. He is currently the Refuge Manager at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. 
Want More?

Learn more from Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Conservation broadcast, "What does it matter? Attitudes and values make a difference in conservation." 

Click the Human Dimensions 2013 tab and scroll down to recording.  
*photo credits: USFWS; dbfphotos

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