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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

Public Attitudes Toward Threatened and Endangered Species and Steller Sea Lions

As reported in the July-August-September 2007 issue of the AFSC Quarterly Report, a public survey conducted by Dr. Dan Lew (Economics and Social Science Research (ESSR) Program), David Layton (University of Washington), and Stratus Consulting to understand the public’s preferences for providing additional protection to the threatened and endangered stocks of Steller sea lions was completed in late 2007.

The survey collected information necessary to estimate the public’s preferences and values for providing additional protection to Steller sea lions. The survey also collected other information from randomly-selected Alaska households and other U.S. households (U.S. households outside Alaska) useful for understanding public preferences for, and attitudes about, threatened and endangered species generally and Steller sea lions particularly. These preferences and attitudes are summarized below. Econometric model results from the analysis of the stated preference choice questions also collected in the survey will not be presented below since this is an area of ongoing work.

In general, Alaskan and other U.S. respondents had very similar views on the Endangered Species Act, with over 70% of respondents in each sample having a positive view of the law (Fig. 3). Respondents were asked the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with two statements about threatened and endangered species, "Protecting threatened and endangered species is important to me" (Fig. 4) and "Protecting jobs is more important than protecting threatened and endangered species" (Fig. 5). In each question, Alaskan and other U.S. respondents had similar distributions of responses.

  Figure 3 graph, see caption
Figure 3.  When you think of the Endangered Species Act, how positive or negative is your general reaction?



Figure 4 graph, see caption
Figure 4.  How much do you agree or disagree with the statement, "Protecting threatened and endangered species is important to me"?



Figure 5 graph, see caption
Figure 5.  How much do you agree or disagree with the statement, "Protecting jobs is more important than protecting threatened and endangered species"?
 

The survey provides basic information about Steller sea lions and describes the two stocks of Steller sea lions in the United States, the threatened Eastern Stock and endangered Western Stock, and the population trends of each. The Eastern Stock has been increasing for a number of years. Until recently, the Western Stock as a whole has been decreasing. Alaskans tended to be more knowledgeable and experienced with Steller sea lions, with about 92% of Alaskan respondents indicating they had seen, heard, or read about them compared with about 40% of other U.S. respondents. Over 40% of respondents in each sample (44% of Alaska respondents and 41% of other U.S. respondents) indicated they are "very concerned" or "extremely concerned" about the Western Stock. In contrast, the proportion of respondents in each sample that is "very concerned" or "extremely concerned" about the Eastern Stock is lower (23% of Alaska respondents and 25% of other U.S. respondents).

The survey also presents information and asks the respondents how concerned they are about possible costs of additional protection, including the possibility of commercial fishing jobs being lost and higher prices for seafood that may result as the fishing industry adjusts to commercial fishing restrictions that may occur as part of measures to protect Steller sea lions. Most respondents in each sample either indicated they were "a little concerned" or "somewhat concerned" (63% of Alaska respondents and 70% of other U.S. respondents). A higher proportion of Alaskans were "very concerned" or "extremely concerned" (22%) compared to non-Alaskans (16%). Regarding concern about the possibility of higher seafood prices, the most frequently selected response in each sample was “not at all concerned” (36% of Alaskan respondents and 33% of other U.S. respondents). About 17% of Alaskan respondents and 15% of other U.S. respondents were "very concerned" or "extremely concerned" about higher seafood prices that may result from more Steller sea lion protection.

To qualitatively gauge respondents’ preferences for the need for further protection actions, respondents were asked the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with two statements: "Even if it costs us more money, we should do more so the Western Stock is no longer endangered" and "So long as the Eastern Stock recovers, it doesn’t matter to me if the Western Stock remains endangered." Over 60% of respondents in each sample indicated they "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree" with the first statement (62% of Alaska respondents and 61% of other U.S. respondents), indicating the majority of each sample believe more should be spent to ensure the Western stock is no longer endangered. A similarly large proportion of respondents in each sample indicated they "strongly disagree" or "somewhat disagree" with the second statement (74% of Alaska respondents and 67% of other U.S. respondents), suggesting the majority of respondents feel protecting the Western Stock is independent of how the Eastern Stock is doing.

By Dan Lew
 

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