American black bear (Ursus americanus) hunting has come under close scrutiny over the past decade. As black bear populations have increased and expanded, wildlife agencies have been faced with new challenges on how to set population and harvest goals. Wildlife agencies have altered proposed regulations or have had seasons entirely stopped because of public opposition, necessitating a proactive approach to wildlife management based on a scientific understanding of public opinion rather than reactive decision-making in response to public resistance. In November–December 2006, we conducted a telephone survey of 1,206 West Virginia residents to determine their opinions and attitudes toward black bear populations and hunting seasons and to help strengthen the state's black bear management strategies. Although the majority of West Virginians, nearly 3 of 4 respondents in this study, indicated they know at least something about black bears in West Virginia, there were significant regional differences in the public's assessment of their knowledge of the species. Although most respondents thought the black bear population size was “about right,” again, there were regional differences among respondents. In general, most respondents supported black bear hunting if the population was carefully monitored, if they knew the population was stable, or both; however, a number of regional and sociodemographic characteristics appeared to influence public opinion on black bear hunting and hunting seasons in the state, and support for specific seasons varied considerably according to hunting method. Interestingly, our study found that even among hunters, public opposition exceeded support for the current, year-round training season of black bear hunting dogs without harvesting animals in the state. Although it is important for wildlife managers to consider human dimensions and public opinion data in conjunction with biological data when making management decisions, we demonstrate that it also is important for managers to consider regional and sociodemographic differences with respect to attitudes and opinions when making management decisions and population objectives.
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Vol. 20 • No. 2