Public participation affects stakeholder knowledge and opinions concerning other stakeholders, managers, and resources as well as management decisions. We analyzed participants' knowledge and opinions at the beginning and at the conclusion of a collaborative process to develop a management plan for black bears (Ursus americanus) in Virginia during 1999–2001. We administered identical surveys pre- and post-planning to stakeholders involved in the process: members of a stakeholder advisory committee (active participants, n=15), members of 3 stakeholder organizations with representatives on the committee (passive participants, total n=647), and agency staff (n=21). Both active and passive participation influenced stakeholders' knowledge and opinions concerning black bears and their management. Stakeholders' knowledge of black bears and bear management, and their image of bear managers, improved during the planning process. Stakeholder support for controversial management strategies (e.g., use of lethal methods to address bear problems) increased. Active participation apparently influenced opinions more than passive participation. Extensive interaction among advisory committee members resulted in greater tolerance for views of other stakeholder groups. Opinions of agency staff regarding bear management and stakeholder involvement in decision-making apparently were reinforced. This study demonstrates the utility of active participation, indirect involvement through interaction with active participants, and direct mailings in educating and improving relationships with and among various stakeholders.
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