Date of this Version
Each year across Canada, millions of dollars of damage to agricultural crops can be attributed to vertebrate pests. Estimates for 1975 indicated that approximately $240,000,000 damage was incurred by agricultural pests (Solman et al. 1975). Worldwide impact of these pests must certainly be staggering, especially during the current trend of rising production costs and demand for food. In Canada and the United States, pest control programs may be attacked by increaseingly active and vocal environmental groups. Recently, the killing of blackbirds (Icteridae) and starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in Kentucky and Tennessee evoked strong objection (Graham 1976, 1978; Jackson 1976). As a result, politically sensitive civil servants may feel justified in avoiding programs which involve the killing of vertebrate pests. While decision-making within the government is subject to public scrutiny and criticism, prior knowledge of public attitudes toward potential policies may enable public servants to make acceptable decisions regarding wildlife management (Hendee and Potter 1973) Unfortunately, there is a paucity of sociological research addressing the question of public attitudes toward pest control. Arthur et al. (1977) assessed the attitudes of Americans toward the conflict between environmentalists and livestock ranchers regarding the killing of coyotes (Canis Iatrans), and Buys (1975) examined the attitudes of New Mexico ranchers toward coyotes and coyote control. From these studies it was found that ranchers harbor attitudes which are resistant to the implementation of non- lethal control techniques, and that, in general, the public was more concerned about the humaneness and species specificity of control than cost effectiveness. These facts are particularly relevant to the controversy concerning red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phaeniceus) damage to corn (Zea mays) in southwestern Quebec, where members of the agricultural communities have encouraged the use of lethal control measures to decrease blackbird populations (Weatherhead et al. these proceedings). The objectives of this paper are to examine and assess the attitudes of Canadians vis- a-vis agricultural pest control and to include Quebec farmers’ evaulations of the blackbird population, crop damage and control techniques. To achieve these objectives, the results from 3 surveys conducted during the period 1975-1978 were examined. The first was a study of the attitudes of Quebeckers toward environmentally-related outdoor activities and agricultural pest control (Clark 1979). Next, a survey of Quebec farmers was used to locate roosts, obtain crop-damage estimates and assess attitudes toward blackbirds and their control. And third, a random survey of Canadians examined attitudes toward the control of red-winged blackbirds which damage crops and suggested several management strategies.