Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Washington
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Washington Project

Proactive development of CWD outreach, education, and policy to guide disease management in Washington

August 2022 - August 2023


Participating Agencies

  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The mission of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is to preserve, protect, and perpetuate the state’s fish, wildlife, and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities. This mission represents the deeply held value of connection with the natural world that all Washingtonians share and forms the basis of the Department’s commitment to respond to significant risks to the health of the state’s native wildlife. In the case of disease risks to resident cervid species, the consequences of inaction could profoundly affect Washington’s vibrant hunting and outdoor recreation culture, as well as the economic benefits that support communities and conservation throughout the state.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) represents a potentially significant long-term threat to Washington’s diverse native cervid species, one of which is federally protected (Columbian white-tailed deer), and to populations that are co-managed with Tribes (29 federally-recognized in Washington). Currently, the disease has been identified in 26 states and 4 Canadian provinces, with the closest positive 70 miles from Washington. A comprehensive CWD response must include biological and sociological components, ideally developed before the disease is detected. Proactive CWD management is paramount given the increasing evidence that long-term population declines are likely when outbreaks persist, further reducing hunting participation and diminishing public trust in management agencies. Unfortunately, Agency responses are almost always reactive, which further reduces support and subverts opportunities for disease elimination. Examples from other states indicate that a successful CWD response is predicated on stakeholder support for management actions. Essentially, Agency success will increase if a strong human dimensions component is developed and incorporated before an outbreak.
The WDFW developed a CWD management plan in 2021, and this proposed project will align with its first objective, “Proactively build trust with and support from the public and stakeholders regarding CWD management activities during each phase of the Plan.” Here, we will employ accepted social science methods to guide CWD-related decision-making, with an emphasis on education and outreach. We will conduct focus groups/interviews of key parties, including (but not limited to) Tribal representatives, agricultural producers, cervid hunting groups, agency personnel, and other influential individuals. Knowledge gained from focus groups/interviews will be used to develop a quantitative survey using a random sample of Washington hunters. The survey will address issues such as CWD knowledge, risk perceptions, behavior, support for regulatory alternatives (e.g., increased harvest, deer feeding bans, financial incentives), and agency trust. The survey items will provide information essential to selecting management actions that garner public support, as well as anticipating opposition.
Finally, and crucially, we will produce public-facing education and outreach materials based on the findings of our interviews and surveys. These brochures, videos, and presentations will reach a large portion of Washington’s cervid hunters and help WDFW effectively communicate about CWD and its management, minimizing opposition and building trust in the agency. Ultimately, this project outlines a cost-effective yet comprehensive approach to meeting Objective 5 of the USDA funding priorities, “Develop and/or deliver educational outreach materials or programs to wild cervid stakeholders or Tribal entities.”