Your Opinion Counts

Every day we come across statistics almost everywhere we look. From radio, television, newspapers, magazines and the Internet we learn such tidbits as “36 percent of people say cheese is their favorite pizza topping” or “22 percent of Americans don’t own a cell phone.” Such information is collected using surveys, usually by telephone or mail. Polling companies ask the public for their opinions or preferences on almost every topic imaginable.

You may be surprised to learn that the Department of Conservation has its own small group of social scientists who research public opinions and attitudes about issues related to Missouri’s fish, forest and wildlife resources. This group is made up of experts in “Human Dimensions,” a field that is growing in importance, especially in fish and wildlife agencies.

The Department’s first social surveys were conducted in the early 1940s, and the Department’s first social scientist was hired almost 30 years ago.

Natural resource management is just as much about managing for people as it is managing for turkeys, trout or trees. In its management decisions, the Department takes into account how decisions affect you, the resource user, and your recreational opportunities.

Human dimensions information comes from surveys, public meetings, focus groups and even Web polls. We ask Missourians about their views on the environment, outdoor recreation (including hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, horseback riding, bird watching and other activities), and even how good of a job the Department is doing in managing the state’s resources. Last year we contacted nearly 200,000 Missourians to get their input on various issues.

You might say, “Nobody asked my opinion.” It’s true we don’t—and can’t—contact everyone, but we think that through what is known as “sampling,” we are able to learn what you likely think about fish and wildlife issues.

Sampling is similar to taking several small bites of a cake to learn what the whole cake tastes like. Surveys assume that an opinion held by one person is also held by others. If you ask enough people, you get a pretty good idea of what a group of people, whether landowners, anglers, hikers, hunters, homeowners, farmers, or even all Missourians or all Americans, think about any issue.

Have you ever wished to have the strength of 10 people? When you respond to a survey, thanks to the power of sampling techniques, you have the strength of thousands. Surveys work to represent even large groups of people. In fact, for simple questions, most