Nicole Girten

(Daily Montanan) Montana has more cows than people, but more bears? Not exactly.

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Tim Sheehy said in a recent interview with Breitbart News there were more bears than people in Montana, which estimates don’t support, and by a long shot.

“This is a state where there’s not a lot of people. There’s more cows than people, there’s more bears than people, and we’re not used to having a lot of political clout. Presidential elections or electoral votes don’t mean a whole lot, ” Sheehy said in the interview.

Sheehy, who would face Democrat incumbent U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in a general election, made this statement trying to put Montana’s smaller population in context. Sheehy’s comment more cows roam the state than people is accurate, as reported by Montana Free Press, but experts in the state said Sheehy’s bear comment was wildly off the mark.

Sheehy did not return a request for comment made through his campaign website by press time.

In the interview, Sheehy said Montana’s population size is related to its “political clout,” something he said was changing with the upcoming Senate race against Tester, one that could determine party control in the chamber in Washington, D.C.

Sheehy has been endorsed by Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Montana Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, as well as Gov. Greg Gianforte, and he currently runs unopposed in the primary.

However, U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale is a favorite among many Montana Republican leaders and is weighing a run. Rosendale lost to Tester in 2018 for the same seat.

Either way, Montana already has at least some power, or “clout.”

Daines serves as NRSC chairperson and Tester sits as chairperson of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Defense Appropriations subcommittee. This summer, children won a lawsuit against the state on climate, drawing international headlines for the first-of-its-kind trial.

According to U.S. Census data from 2022, there are more than 1.1 million people living in Montana, and Greg Lemon with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said Tuesday the bear population isn’t that high in the state.

“Fewer bears, deer, elk, combined than people,” Lemon told the Daily Montanan.

He said the department doesn’t track population estimates within the state’s border, but within the different recovery ecosystems that are largely in the state, so he did not have a solid number handy to report.

He said bears, especially in the Greater Yellowstone area, travel back and forth over the state line all the time, and bears outside the ecosystems the department is tracking don’t get counted.

However, he was confident there weren’t more than 1 million bears in the state. Grizzlies were placed on the federal Endangered Species list in 1975 and are protected in all lower 48 states. FWP told the Daily Montanan in July the state has more than 2,100 grizzly bears.

FWP Bear Manager Jamie Jonkel said Montana is lucky it can hold a few more bears, and the estimate by the candidate was off.

“Stretching that a little bit,” Jonkel said with a laugh.

He said black bear populations are “at capacity” and grizzly populations are expanding, but still nowhere near the million mark.

“You could fit all the grizzlies in Montana in the city kid’s theater here in Missoula, if you wanted to,” Jonkel said.

He said it’s “far fetched” to imagine what the state would look like with more than one million bears. Jonkel said with the amount of development that’s happening in the state, and the habitats being lost, people need to pay attention to preservation.

“We should be tickled pink we still have good wild country here that can hold a grizzly, can hold a lynx, can hold a wolverine or a fish,” he said.

Although Sheehy’s statement was a far exaggeration, some people might feel that animals are encroaching on their turf. Sheehy’s comment comes after a slew of grizzly altercations with humans in the state this summer. A woman was killed by a grizzly near West Yellowstone in July, a hunter recently was severely injured in a grizzly attack near Big Sky and a hunter near Fairfield shot and injured a grizzly.

September is Bear Aware Month in Montana, and FWP is hosting educational events as well as posting videos for people living in bear country to do so safely.