Setting the Future Direction for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife Through Internal and External Survey Research

New Challenges for Fish and Wildlife Agencies: Dealing With Nuisance Wildlife Issues
 
Fish and wildlife agencies nationwide are under increasing pressure to respond to nuisance wildlife calls and situations. Yet many agencies receive no funding for these activities -- it simply constitutes an added-on, unfunded responsibility. The differences between the responses of Delaware residents and Division employees presented below reveal a common dilemma for many fish and wildlife agencies that involves wildlife management, funding, and public expectations: What level of involvement should fish and wildlife agencies have in managing nuisance wildlife?
 
In the survey, about 1 in 5 Delaware residents (22%) indicate that they have had problems with wild animals or birds in their neighborhood or around their home -- that means that close to 150,000 Delaware residents experience such problems. The most common problem animals are deer, raccoons, opossums, birds, foxes, woodchucks or groundhogs, and squirrels. Common problems are damage to gardens, damage to yards, threat to humans, threat or harm to pets, getting into garbage, structural damage to homes or buildings, and agricultural damage.
 
Delaware residents were asked who they think should be most responsible for addressing nuisance wildlife problems in Delaware, and they could name more than one entity. A majority of residents named the Division (66% think the Division should be most responsible). Other commonly named entities include the property owners themselves (31%) and local or county governments (31%).
Given the scenario that the Division would address nuisance wildlife in specific incidents, Delaware residents were asked if the Division should primarily provide advice and guidance only or provide services such as removal as well (or if the Division should provide both about equally). The large majority (75%) indicated that the Division should provide both about equally; otherwise, they are split between advice/guidance (12%) and services (10%). In this question, 85% of Delaware residents give an answer that entails the Division providing some removal services.

In follow-up, Delaware residents were presented with the scenario that the Division would provide removal services. Residents were then asked if they agree or disagree that the Division should charge a fee to do so, and they are evenly split: 46% agree, and 47% disagree.

Division employees were also asked if they agree or disagree that the Division should be responsible for the removal of nuisance wildlife, and a majority of employees (61%) disagree that the Division should be responsible for such removal.
 
In the same follow-up as the resident survey, employees were presented with the scenario that the Division would provide removal services. Employees were then asked if they agree or disagree that the Division should charge a fee to do so, and the large majority (80%) agree that the Division should charge a fee for such services.
 
Some fish and wildlife professionals feel that involvement with nuisance wildlife beyond simple technical assistance should not be the responsibility of the state fish and wildlife agency. Others feel that the issue should be embraced and that it represents an opportunity for additional funding and a way to connect the agency with urban and suburban residents. Some fish and wildlife professionals also feel that nuisance wildlife is a wildlife management issue that will not go away and should be dealt with by the agencies in some way.
 
Regardless of individual philosophy, agencies will have to deal with ever-increasing nuisance wildlife calls in one manner or another, and internal and external assessments such as this study can provide an important starting point for confronting new and non-traditional wildlife management issues.
WITH INCREASING THREATS TO THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT, tightening agency budgets, a burgeoning population, and a variety of emerging public demands, it is more important than ever for fish and wildlife agencies to set a clear future direction based on a solid foundation of fact. Nowhere is this more important than in Delaware, the second smallest state in area but the sixth most densely populated state in the union.

With direct responsibility for managing approximately 60,000 acres of lands including ponds, wildlife, and water access areas and facilities, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control's Division of Fish and Wildlife contracted with Responsive Management to assist in setting the future direction for the Division by determining state residents' opinions on and experiences with outdoor recreation and wildlife management, as well as Division employees' and stakeholders' opinions on management efforts and the work of the Division.

One of the best ways to assist in setting strategic direction is to couple an internal assessment -- an "inside-out" approach -- with an external assessment -- an "outside-in" approach. Assessment from the "inside out" means that the Division takes the time to understand the opinions, attitudes, and priorities of its employees, takes a detailed look at where it wants to go (mission and vision), sets realistic goals and measurable objectives, and identifies strategies to meet those goals and objectives. Assessment from the "outside in" means that the Division gains a better understanding of its constituents' opinions, attitudes, and priorities regarding the agency's programs, activities, and efforts. Setting future direction would necessarily take internal as well as external perspectives into consideration.

For this study, three separate scientific surveys were administered, to Division employees, stakeholders, and Delaware residents. The questionnaires for the surveys were developed cooperatively by Responsive Management and the Division. Major findings of the employee and resident surveys are presented here.
 
Fish, Wildlife, and Outdoor Recreation Issues in Delaware
In an open-ended question (meaning that no answer set is read and respondents can instead respond with anything that comes to mind), Delaware residents indicated that they thought the most important fish or wildlife issues that Delaware faces are pollution in general (35%), development (9%), and conservation in general (6%). Meanwhile, Division employees' most common responses contained some mention of habitat loss or habitat degradation (55%), securing or maintaining funding for the Division (18%), and attracting new sportsmen or broadening the Division's constituent base (10%).

Although Delaware residents did not specifically mention habitat loss or degradation in their responses, development can be considered a parallel response in that it has the direct effect of habitat loss or degradation. Still, Delaware residents did not show the same level of concern for this as did Division employees: only 9% of residents mentioned development as an important fish and wildlife issue, whereas 55% of Division employees mentioned loss of habitat when asked the same question.
 
This represents a major communication challenge for the Division. While habitat issues are by far the top priority for employees, loss of habitat is not a top-of-mind issue for Delaware residents. While the survey findings show that Delaware residents are very concerned about development issues in the state (see further findings below), residents do not seem to immediately connect the two. Communications will necessarily need to link Delaware residents' concerns over development to habitat loss as a top-of-mind issue. When communicating with Delaware residents about the issue of habitat loss, the discussion needs to start with development and lead to habitat destruction and loss. Delaware residents can relate to development because they see it every day, but the larger issue of habitat loss seems one step removed as a top-of-mind, salient issue. 
 
CLICK TO ENLARGE 
  While habitat loss was the highest priority for employees,
it was not a top-of-mind issue among Delaware residents.
(Click image to enlarge)
 
 
Overall Ratings of the Fish and Wildlife Division and Its Wildlife Section 
Delaware residents were asked whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with the Division. Positive answers led negative answers by a ratio of 6 to 1, with 37% satisfied and only 6% dissatisfied; however, the majority (53%) answered "Don't know." Residents were also asked whether they were satisfied or dissatisfied with the Division's Wildlife Section. Positive answers led negative answers by a ratio of about 10 to 1, with 43% satisfied and 4% dissatisfied; however, half (50%) answered "Don't know." This indicates that Delaware residents need to be made more aware of the Division's activities.
 
From a communications standpoint, this represents a major challenge for the Division. It is clear that Delaware residents support the Division's activities, and those who are familiar with the Division feel it is doing a great job. However, numerous Delaware residents are not familiar with the Division. To increase support among Delaware residents, the Division must make Delaware residents more aware of the agency and its involvement in the issues that Delaware residents have indicated are important. 
 
General Opinions on Fish and Wildlife Management in Delaware
The survey asked residents whether they agreed or disagreed with 10 statements about wildlife management and conservation. Four statements stand out with markedly more agreement than the other statements:
 
♦ Fish and wildlife species should be protected from the impacts of land development even if it means reduced or less housing development in Delaware (92% agree).
 
♦ Hunting and fishing are part of the scientific management of fish and wildlife populations (83% agree).
 
♦ The use and development of land in Delaware should be restricted to protect fish and wildlife (83% agree).
 
♦ The Division of Fish and Wildlife needs to protect fish and wildlife from the impacts of global warming or climate change (78% agree).
 
By contrast, the statements that had the lowest levels of agreement among residents are:
 
♦ The Division of Fish and Wildlife is doing enough to protect our state's fish and wildlife populations (54% agree).
 
♦ The Division of Fish and Wildlife is doing enough to protect fish and wildlife habitat in Delaware (53% agree).
 
These results demonstrate that Delaware residents have a high level of concern for the state's natural resources but that they feel more needs to be done to protect wildlife and habitat in the state. In short, a majority of Delaware residents strongly support the goals of the Division, and these findings may provide the public and political support that the Division needs to further strengthen its mission of protecting the state's fish and wildlife through active management and habitat protection.

Division employees were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the same 10 statements. Three statements stand out with markedly more agreement than the other statements, and they are among the same statements that received the highest percentages of agreement from residents:
 
♦ Fish and wildlife species should be protected from the impacts of land development even if it means reduced or less housing development in Delaware (95% agree).
 
♦ Hunting and fishing are part of the scientific management of fish and wildlife populations (90% agree).
 
♦ The use and development of land in Delaware should be restricted to protect fish and wildlife (80% agree).

By contrast, only about a quarter of Division employees agree with the following statements. These are the statements that have the lowest level of agreement among Division employees, and they are among the same statements that met with the lowest agreement from Delaware residents:

♦ The Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife is doing enough to protect our state's fish and wildlife populations (28% agree).

♦ The Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife is doing enough to protect fish and wildlife habitat in Delaware (22% agree).

These results indicate high levels of agreement between Division employees and Delaware residents that more needs to be done to protect habitat and wildlife in the state. It is also a clear indication that a majority of Delaware residents stand behind the mission of the Division and its employees.
 
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Employees and Delaware residents show high levels of agreement
when asked about wildlife management and conservation in the state.
(Click image to enlarge)
 
 
Opinions on and Ratings of Division Efforts and Programs 
Delaware residents were asked to rate the importance of 22 programs or efforts of the Division. For each program or effort, residents rated its importance on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being not at all important and 10 being extremely important. Residents were then asked to rate the Division's performance of those same 22 programs or efforts on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being poor and 10 being excellent. The results for each of these series of questions were examined separately, and then the results were examined together.

In the importance ratings, three programs or efforts are markedly perceived by residents as being more important than the rest: protecting threatened and endangered species (mean importance rating of 8.89), protecting and restoring native fish and wildlife species (8.77), and protecting, improving, and restoring native fish and wildlife habitats (8.75). Delaware residents considered programs or efforts related to consumptive activities (e.g., trapping and hunting) to be markedly lower in importance by comparison.

In the performance ratings, programs or efforts that received the highest rating from Delaware residents include the following: managing game species (mean performance rating of 7.35), managing and protecting non-game species (species that are not hunted) (7.30), protecting threatened and endangered species (7.23), and protecting, improving, and restoring native fish and wildlife habitats (7.22).

Finally, the importance and performance ratings for each program or effort were compared. When a program or effort is rated high in importance but not high in performance, this indicates that residents may feel that the Division needs to do a better job at the program or effort. In these instances, the Division should strive to obtain better performance ratings. Conversely, if a program or effort is rated high in performance but not high in importance, this indicates that residents may feel that the Division is spending too much of its resources on that program or effort. In these instances, the Division may need to inform residents of why the program or effort is important.

There are seven programs or efforts that fall relatively far from having "commensurate" ratings, with markedly higher importance ratings than performance ratings:

♦ reducing the impacts of development on natural resources and wildlife habitat;

♦ reducing the impacts of climate change on natural resources and wildlife habitat;

♦ providing educational programs on Delaware's fish and wildlife;

♦ protecting threatened and endangered species;

♦ reducing the impacts of human use of natural resources and wildlife habitat;

♦ protecting and restoring native fish and wildlife species; and 

♦ protecting, improving, and restoring native fish and wildlife habitats.

This indicates that Delaware residents feel that the Division should focus more attention on these programs or efforts. The Division should also make Delaware residents aware of what it is doing in these areas.

Division employees were asked to rate the importance of the same 22 programs or efforts of the Division, but not the Division's performance for the 22 programs or efforts. In the importance ratings, all but six programs or efforts received a mean rating of more than 7.00 from Division employees. Five programs or efforts are markedly perceived by Division employees to be more important than the rest, with mean ratings of more than 8.00: protecting and restoring native fish and wildlife species (mean rating of 8.73), protecting threatened and endangered species (8.65), protecting, improving, and restoring native fish and wildlife habitats (8.58), reducing the impacts of development on natural resources and wildlife habitat (8.58), and providing opportunities for hunting (8.33).

Division employees consider the importance of providing opportunities for hunting to be much higher than do Delaware residents. Delaware residents rated the importance of that effort with a mean of only 5.66 (with 20% of residents giving it a rating of importance of 9 or 10), compared to Division employees, who rated it with a mean of 8.33 (with 55% of Division employees giving it a rating of importance of 9 or 10). This does not mean, however, that Delaware residents do not support hunting -- it simply is not as high a priority to them as other issues. One implication is that the Division could increase its education efforts to inform Delaware residents of the major role that hunting plays in funding wildlife management through license fees and excise taxes on hunting equipment.
 
Participation in and Opinions on Outdoor Activities in Delaware
The survey asked residents if they support or oppose four outdoor activities (legal hunting, legal recreational fishing, regulated trapping, and trapping as a recreational activity) in Delaware. Support is high for legal recreational fishing (92% support; 5% oppose) and legal hunting (78% support; 17% oppose). Trapping receives less support: 56% support regulated trapping (35% oppose), and 31% support trapping as a recreational activity (61% oppose). Unlike trapping in a mostly recreational context, a majority of Delaware residents support trapping as a method of nuisance animal control by the Division (76% support; while 18% oppose).

The Division employee survey also asked respondents to rate access for five different outdoor activities in Delaware on an excellent/good/fair/poor scale. The activities included wildlife viewing, boating, target shooting, trapping, and "other outdoor recreational activities" like hiking, mountain biking, and similar activities. For three of these activities, a majority of employees rate access in Delaware as excellent or good: boating (82% of employees say access for boating is excellent or good), wildlife viewing (62%), and "other outdoor recreation activities" such as hiking, mountain biking, and similar activities (56%). At the other end of the spectrum, a large majority of employees (70%) rate access for target shooting in Delaware as fair or poor.
 
Opinions on Funding for the Division of Fish and Wildlife
Funding is perhaps the most important issue for most state fish and wildlife agencies. This study was meant to be an initial assessment of where Delaware residents stand in general on this important issue.
 
Among Delaware residents overall, there is much more support for (75%) than opposition to (18%) increases in user fees, such as hunting and fishing licenses, to cover the costs of conserving and managing fish and wildlife. There is much more support for (72%) than opposition to (21%) increases in user fees, such as hunting and fishing licenses, if it means that there will be more opportunities for these activities. However, as might be expected, support among those who have hunted, trapped, and/or fished in the two years preceding the survey is weaker than among Delaware residents as a whole: only 64% support, and 31% oppose such increases. Support and opposition only change slightly if the increases would mean more opportunity: in this case, 69% support, and 27% oppose.

Agreement (68%) far exceeds disagreement (27%) among Delaware residents that the costs of conserving and managing fish and wildlife should be paid for primarily by those who fish and hunt through such fees as hunting and fishing licenses. Support among those who have hunted, trapped, and/or fished in the two years preceding the survey is somewhat less, and opposition more, with 61% agreeing and 36% disagreeing.
 
Among Delaware residents overall, agreement (78%) far exceeds disagreement (15%) that specific user fees, such as hunting and fishing licenses, should be used to pay the costs of conserving and managing fish and wildlife, including non-game and threatened and endangered species. Those who hunted, trapped, and/or fished in the two years preceding the survey largely agree with Delaware residents on this statement: 79% agree, and 18% disagree.
 
This is a dilemma that fish and wildlife agencies across the nation face: Should the general population, which clearly benefits from wildlife management efforts, assist in paying for wildlife management and conservation? Internal assessments such as this study can serve as a starting point for agencies to take on such issues. With factual knowledge from scientific surveys of agency employees, the general population, and constituent groups such as hunters and anglers, agencies can make informed decisions regarding this type of issue. 

Agreement (77%) far exceeds disagreement (18%) among Delaware residents that the costs of conserving and managing fish and wildlife, including non-game and threatened and endangered species, should be paid for by those who participate in outdoor recreational activities other than hunting and fishing that involve the use of the resources and land, such as wildlife viewing, hiking, and mountain biking. In addition, support (67%) far exceeds opposition (27%) among Delaware residents for an annual $10 general access or user fee for use of Public Wildlife Areas for these types of activities. This indicates strong public support for potential alternative funding for the Division. While this study was only an initial general assessment, information collected from this study can serve as a jumping off point to explore possibilities for acquiring additional funding for the state's fish and wildlife management efforts.

Among Division employees, support for (78%) far exceeds opposition to (20%) an annual $10 general access or user fee for use of Public Wildlife Areas for outdoor recreational activities other than hunting and fishing in Delaware that involve the use of resources and land, such as wildlife viewing, hiking, and mountain biking.

The full report, including results and analysis regarding residents' perceived values of natural resources and outdoor recreation, opinions on and ratings of species-specific wildlife management in Delaware, and large tract owners' participation in the Division's landowner programs, is available here (1.3MB PDF). A printable version of this article is available here (784KB PDF).
PHOTO: DELAWARE BAY BY CRAIG COPPIE / USFWS.
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