While the majority of Washingtonians support legal hunting, more people than ever don't care, according to a survey commissioned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and published Thursday.
"Approval of legal, regulated hunting has decreased substantially, going from 88% in 2014 to 75% in 2022. Likewise, support for hunting is down for all given reasons or scenarios," states the report conducted by a Virginia-based survey research company focused on outdoor recreation and natural resources. "However, this is not accompanied by notable increases in opposition; rather, higher percentages of residents are giving neutral or 'do not know' responses. In fact, some questions show decreases in both support and opposition."
That finding mirrors ongoing declines in hunter participation at the state and national levels, and according to the survey, only 4% of Washingtonians had hunted in the past year.
The report looked at a number of other issues including Washingtonian's attitudes toward predator management and views on human-wildlife conflict.
Surveyors received 965 completed surveys from Washingtonian 18 years or older. The sampling error is 3.5% and the surveys were conducted via telephone and online. The same company has conducted similar surveys for Washington in 2002, 2008 and 2014.
Notable findings included:
* Two-thirds of Washington residents (66%) are satisfied with the variety of options to enjoy fish and wildlife resources throughout the state; 37% are very satisfied. This compares to only 9% who are dissatisfied.
* A majority of residents participated in hiking (65% did so) and wildlife viewing (56%) in Washington in the past two years, and 4% of residents hunted in Washington in the past 12 months.
* Just over two-thirds of residents (68%) participated in any outdoor recreation activities on public land in Washington over the past two years, compared to 29% who did not.
* In an even split, 47% of residents participated in outdoor recreation on private property in Washington in the past two years and 47% did not.
* Over a quarter of residents (28%) are a member of or have donated to an organization that promotes wildlife conservation or habitat enhancement.
The survey also looked at attitudes toward predator management finding that:
* The vast majority of residents (80%) support maintaining sustainable predator populations in Washington's ecosystem, with 46% being strong support. Only 7% oppose.
* Residents are divided on killing predators to reduce the loss of domestic animals: 42% support and 36% oppose.
* A majority of residents (58%) supports killing predators to protect threatened or endangered species, whereas 18% oppose.
* Only 19% of residents support killing black bears to protect private timberlands, compared to 62% who oppose
On July 15, the WDFW Commission approved more liberalized cougar hunting rules in the Blue Mountains in hopes of giving struggling elk populations more breathing room. During the same meeting, it voted to put off considering a spring black bear hunt until after rewriting the policy governing that hunt.
Finally, the survey asked respondents about human-wildlife conflict, finding that 19% of residents had two or more negative interactions with wild animals or birds within the past two years. The most common species with which humans came into conflict? Raccoons, deer, coyotes and rodents.
WDFW staff are still "analyzing these results, and we expect to incorporate findings into both internal and external communications in the weeks and months ahead," WDFW spokesman Chase Gunnell said in a statement.
"This will also include consideration of a study on Washington hunters' attitudes that was conducted in tandem with this survey of the broader public, and which we anticipate will be published soon," he said.
Gunnell welcomed the news that a majority of Washingtonians are "satisfied with the options to enjoy fish and wildlife resources in our state, with more than a third of those very satisfied and only 9 percent dissatisfied."
"We're also glad to see findings showing strong participation in outdoor recreation, and that three -fourths of Washingtonians approve of legal, regulated hunting in general; with 44% strongly approving," he said.
The fact that more people don't care one way or the other about hunting should rally hunters and hunting organizations, said Marie Neumiller, the executive director of the Spokane-based Inland Northwest Wildlife Council.
"That tells me the hunting community needs to do more outreach," she said.