Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) Most Montanans have become increasingly tolerant of wolves over the past decade, according to a new University of Montana survey.

On Thursday, the University of Montana, in cooperation with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, released a few results of a survey on wolf tolerance in Montana. It’s the third survey conducted since 2012 and shows that most Montanans are less and less bothered by wolves.

The survey questioned a large number of residents - 10,000 - who were split into four groups: the general population, landowners, deer and elk hunters, and wolf hunters and trappers. They were asked to rate their tolerance on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being very tolerant.

In 2023, three-quarters of the general population group were tolerant or very tolerant of wolves. That’s a big jump from 2017 when half the general population indicated they were tolerant. In the first survey in 2012, 41% indicated they were tolerant.

“I think these results show that, as Montanans have lived with wolves for the past 10 or more years, their attitudes and tolerance toward wolves are increasing, but support for hunting and lethal control also remains high,” said Dr. Alex Metcalf, a UM associate professor and co-director of the Human Dimensions Lab in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation.

When it comes to wolf hunting, less than 60% of the general population now approves, down from 71% in 2012. Not surprisingly, 100% of wolf hunters and trappers like wolf hunting, while 82% of deer and elk hunters and 86% of landowners are tolerant of wolf hunting.

The results for a question about wolf trapping were reported a little differently. Instead of listing population percentages, the UM release said the average response for the general population was 2.7, down from 2.9 in 2017. Since 3 on the rating scale indicates a neutral attitude, the attitude of the general public is getting less tolerant toward trapping. Meanwhile, the average score for the other three groups showed approval, ranging from 3.9 to 4.8.

Metcalf told the Current that population percentages offer a quicker summary of the sides on an issue but can miss what’s changing around the neutral point, “which is often large.” Also, the different scientists running the survey contributed different numbers, and the release was “not able to do both in a short space.” Metcalf said the authors will be submitting a lengthy report to FWP within the next few weeks that will include both percentages and average scores.

Few people are satisfied with wolf management in Montana, based on the survey responses. Satisfaction can go both ways, however. Some might be dissatisfied that there’s not enough wolves being killed while others might think too many wolves are being killed. Just one-third of the general population was satisfied with wolf management while one-fifth of landowners said they were satisfied. The other two groups reportedly fell between one-third and one-fifth.

The responses to a question about confidence in FWP’s ability to manage wolves were slightly different. Even though deer and elk hunters were fairly dissatisfied with wolf management, 45% of them were still confident in FWP’s ability. But about 80% of both landowners and trappers were dissatisfied not only with wolf management but also FWP’s ability to manage.

Metcalf said the survey was designed to sample 5,000 general residents, 2,500 landowners owning more than 160 acres, 1,500 deer/elk license holders, and 1,000 wolf license holders. But, not everyone agrees to participate. After tallying responses, the survey ended up with 1,249 general residents, 926 landowners, 480 deer/elk license holders, and 354 wolf license holders.

“The size of the wolf-license holding population is relatively small, so a smaller sample is needed to have tight confidence intervals. The large landowner sample was higher than you might expect, because we wanted to capture livestock and other ag producers, a smaller subsample of the broader landowner population,” Metcalf said in an email.

The sampling error is 3.7% for general residents, 1.2% for landowners, 2.5% for deer/elk license holders, and 0.5% for wolf license holders.

On Friday, Wolves of the Rockies spokesman Marc Cooke said his group was pleased to see the trend of the general population, because it backs up what they’ve been trying to tell the FWP and the FWP commission for years: Non-consumptive users don’t see the need for high wolf kill quotas and unethical practices.

“This (survey) flies in the face of Gov. Gianforte’s position of catering to (the Montana Outfitters and Guides) and the unethical hunting community, which leads to the commercialization of our wildlife,” Cooke said.

“Now, it’s up to us to reclaim Montana FWP and bring back science-based wildlife management. What Wolves of the Rockies fears is, even though FWP helped sponsor this survey, since it didn’t give them the outcome they wanted, how will they sweep it under the rug or minimize the positive wolf results? Stop catering to the minority and listen to the majority.”

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.

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