Fact sheet 4 front cover

What makes people care about wildlife management?


September 12, 2023


Changing socio-demographics and wildlife value orientations, along with increasing urbanization, are driving changes in the foundation of wildlife management. Anticipating the decline in hunting participation and revenue, transitioning and building a new foundation for effective wildlife management and stewardship is the issue for wildlife scholars and leaders.


  • Using pro-environmental behaviors as a framework, the goal is to understand what strategies may be helpful at promoting stewardship in support of wildlife conservation and management. Specifically to explore stewardship potential by examining factors that influence conservation behaviors.


The study area included five state-owned wildlife management areas (WMAs) and one federally owned WMA located in southeastern Michigan from Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay region south to western Lake Erie (Figure 1).
While the five state-owned lands are managed primarily for wetlands conservation for waterfowl and waterfowl hunting, these lands also provide ample non-hunting-related wildlife recreation opportunities. The federally owned lands are primarily managed for wildlife habitat for migratory birds. Three of the WMAs are in top birdwatching areas in Michigan. State and federal investment in infrastructure for wetland and habitat management occurs to achieve WMA objectives. Results from a 2018 visitor-use study revealed that angling is the most dominant use after waterfowl hunting in autumn, and 82% of respondents come from within a 50-mile radius, which is represented by a 31-county area in Central and Southeast Michigan.


  • In 2019, responses from Internet and mail-back surveys sent to randomly selected samples of waterfowl
    hunters (n = 316; 14.8% response rate), birdwatchers (n = 1,133; 24.0% response rate), and anglers (n = 254;
    10.2% response rate) from the 31 counties in Central and Southeastern Michigan proximate to the 6 WMAs
    of this project were used for this research.
  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology provided the birdwatcher sampling frame from its list of registered eBird users who reported bird sightings in the 31-county area and were Michigan residents.
  • The 2018 Michigan resident waterfowl hunting license purchasers from the 31-county area, and registrants of the managed waterfowl hunters at the study sites were the sampling frame for waterfowl hunters.
  • For anglers, the sampling frame was purchasers of the 2018 Michigan resident fishing license from the 31-county area.
  • Waterfowl hunter and angler lists were compared to each other and duplicates removed.
  • Data from the three groups were merged (n = 1,759) and used in a three-block hierarchical multiple regression model for hypothesis testing.
  • The Michigan State University Institutional Review Board approved this study (Project 00003031) on August 9, 2019.



Overall, the average respondent age was 55 years, and a majority (56%) were male. At least 72% of respondents had at least an associate or bachelor’s degree. Twenty-one percent of respondents reported annual household income of <$50,000. The majority of respondents (61%) reported that they visited at least one of the WMAs in this study in the past 12 months.

Participation, identity, and conservation behavior variables

Nearly all respondents reported participating in nature activities in the past 12 months. Most respondents (66%) were members of a conservation or environmental organization. (footnote 1)Respondents identified most strongly as a conservationist (M = 3.98). (footnote 2)Making yards or land more desirable to wildlife was the conservation behavior most reported by respondents (M = 3.99), followed by voting to support a policy or regulation that supports conservation (M = 3.66).

Modeling frequency of conservation behaviors

The three-block model that included socio-demographic, recreation participation, and identity variables as
independent variables had the highest variance explained. The following is a summary of the significant predictors of frequency of conservation behaviors:

  • Gender (male) and age were negatively related to conservation behavior, and education was positively
  • WMA visitation was positively associated with conservation behavior.
  • Centrality of activity and membership in an environmental or conservation organization were positively related to conservation behavior.
  • Waterfowl hunter, outdoor enthusiast, and conservationist identity salience variables were positively related to conservation behavior.


Getting people to visit WMAs is an important first step because those who visit are likely to engage in conservation behaviors. Partnerships and engagement with local organizations to get people outdoors shows a
lot of promise. Similarly, people who consider wildlife activities central to their lifestyles are likely to engage in
conservation behaviors. Membership in environmental or conservation organizations had an effect on predicting frequency of conservation behaviors. Therefore, marketing stewardship opportunities to organizational members would likely yield volunteers or volunteer initiatives. Appealing to conservation identities, specifically that of waterfowl hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, or conservationists will also be important. WMA partnerships with conservation organizations could develop opportunities to internalize identities or to facilitate social connections, such as volunteer or mentor programs, etc., or foster group identity and group norms that include conservation behaviors and stewardship.

Key findings

  • A first step at expanding the stakeholder base is to get people to visit wildlife management areas (WMAs) using a variety of methods and invitations.
  • Viewing the outdoor recreation activity as a central part of one’s lifestyle is an important component of predicting conservation behaviors.
  • If the goal is to increase frequency of conservation behaviors, communication messages should include waterfowl hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, and conservationist identities.
  • Consider developing partnerships with local organizations to invite people to join or engage with current organizations.
  • Consider establishing or fostering a “Friends” group for facilitating relationships and stewardship activities

1 Mean scores rated on a scale of 1-5 (1=not at all, 2=slightly, 3=moderately, 4=strongly, 5=very strongly)
2 Mean scores rated on a scale of 1-5 (1=never, 2=rarely, 3=occasionally, 4=often, 5=very often)

Adapted from original research: Avers, B.A. (2022). Exploring stakeholders’ support for and stewardship of
Michigan’s coastal wildlife management areas. [Doctoral dissertation, Michigan State University]


Dr. Barbara Avers
Waterfowl and Wetlands Specialist, Michigan Department of Natural Resources - Wildlife Division; Adjunct Assistant Professor MSU Fisheries and Wildlife Department
aversb@michigan.gov | (517) 930-1163

Dr. Heather Triezenberg
Associate Director and Extension Program Leader, Michigan Sea Grant, MSU Extension; Extension Specialist MSU Fisheries and Wildlife Department
vanden64@msu.edu | (517) 353-5508


We thank the participants in this research project. The results from this study would not exist without their willingness to share their perspectives. Funding for this research came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act Grant MI W-155-R via a grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Division. This study was prepared under awards NA140AR4170070, NA180AR4170102, NA17OAR4320152, and NA22OAR4170084 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce through the Regents of the University of Michigan. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce, or the Regents of the University of Michigan. These data and related items of information have not been formally
disseminated by NOAA and do not represent any agency determination, view or policy.

MSU is an affirmative-action, equal-opportunity employer, committed to achieving excellence through a diverse workforce and inclusive culture that encourages all people to reach their full potential. Michigan State University Extension programs and materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or veteran status. Issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Quentin Tyler, Director, MSU Extension, East Lansing, MI 48824. This information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or bias against those not mentioned.


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