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Exploring Preferences for Outdoor Recreation and Wildlife Sightings

April 24, 2023 | Letters

Author: Emily Forsythe, Master of Science Student, Department of Agricultural Economics, Purdue University

Spring has sprung and many people are itching to get outdoors after being cooped up all winter long. Communing with nature is, well, natural! And, when in nature, one expects (maybe even desires?) experiences involving natural creatures. Well, it isn’t lions, tigers, and bears, oh my (I mean, this is Indiana, after all)! But, for many people it may very well be deer, and opossums, and other furry things.

I recently began summarizing data from a mail survey I conducted with Dr. Carson Reeling that sought to understand preferences for outdoor recreation. Our survey was sent to a random selection of Indiana residents in May of 2022. We asked people about their thoughts and experiences when visiting Indiana recreational areas, which include any of Indiana’s fish and wildlife areas, nature preserves, state forests or state parks and reservoirs, county parks, or city parks. We might not commonly talk about data uses for wildlife, but data (even BIG data!) is at work behind many wildlife management and conservation decisions.  From the data collected we have learned how often individuals visit Indiana recreational areas, what activities people most often engage in at Indiana recreational areas, and about the wildlife encounters experienced by those who participate in recreational activities.

We asked participants how many times in the past 12 months they have visited an Indiana recreational area. The average number of visits was approximately 8; the median value was 3 visits. When asked to specify their favorite activities, individuals indicated hiking/walking the most frequently (26% of the responses), followed by wildlife watching (19%) and picnicking (17%).

We also asked about people’s encounters with white-tailed deer and furbearer species. Furbearers are mammals that are hunted/trapped for their fur (e.g., river otters, coyotes, raccoons). Most respondents indicated seeing white-tailed deer, raccoons, and opossums while engaging in recreation at Indiana recreational areas.

While many people enjoy seeing wildlife, there can also be concerns surrounding encounters with different species. On a 3-point scale with 3 indicating very concerned, respondents were between not being concerned (1) and being slightly concerned (2) with hitting a deer or a furbearer with their vehicle while traveling to Indiana recreational areas. The mean concern level for hitting a deer was 1.949 and the mean concern level for hitting a furbearer was 1.716.