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Towards an Understanding of the Public’s Attitudes and Preferences for Protecting Steller Sea Lions

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group of steller sea lions

STELLER SEA LIONS (Eumetopias jubatus) live in the North Pacific Ocean and consist of two distinct populations, the western stock and eastern stock, which are geographically separated at long. 144°W. As a result of large declines in the populations since at least the early 1970s, the Steller sea lion was listed as threatened throughout its range under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in April 1990. The decline continued through the 1990s for the western stock in Alaska, which was declared endangered in 1997, while the eastern stock remained listed as threatened.

A mail-based stated preference survey was developed by members of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s (AFSC) Economics and Social Science Research Program and collaborators at the University of Washington and Stratus Consulting, from Boulder, Colorado. The purpose of the survey was to collect information on attitudes toward threatened and endangered species and Steller sea lions, and preferences for protecting Steller sea lions that can be used to estimate the public benefits of providing additional protection to Steller sea lions, above and beyond current protection measures.

Additionally, the collected information is intended to shed light on public attitudes toward threatened and endangered species in general and Steller sea lions in particular. The survey was developed and carefully tested with the aid of a series of focus groups and cognitive interviews held in cities across the United States including Alaska. The survey also incorporated input from several Steller sea lion biologists and experts in stated preference techniques and survey design and methodologies.

This research may be useful to resource managers as it provides economic benefit information for a species whose protection and management affects other species and industries and, thus, has large economic consequences. The economic costs of protecting the species are generally estimable and, thus, more easily incorporated in policy discussions. Still, this research has shown the benefits of alternative management actions that affect a public resource like the Steller sea lion can be quantified as well using carefully constructed and implemented stated preference survey methods.

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