UM News Service
MISSOULA – Montanans have varying attitudes and beliefs about wolves and wolf management, and over time some of those feelings have shifted, according to a new survey conducted cooperatively by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the University of Montana.
The survey was distributed three times – in 2012, 2017 and 2023 – tracking trends in how residents view wolves and wolf management. It provides insights to wildlife managers and officials tasked with making decisions on wolf management.
“We know people have complicated views and values on wolves, which is reflected in the results of the survey and the trends we see,” said Quentin Kujala, FWP chief of conservation policy. “It’s important for us and our partners at the University to continue research like this because how stakeholders feel about wildlife and its management is a critical awareness for FWP to have.”
The survey was sent to 10,000 residents categorized into four groups: deer and elk hunters, landowners, the general population, and wolf hunters and trappers. Most of the questions asked people to rate their tolerance on a scale from 1 to 5 (1 being very intolerant, 5 being very tolerant). Survey results have a margin of error of 3.7% for the general population and less for other groups.
Results showed an increasing tolerance for wolves on the landscape, particularly among deer and elk hunters and the general population. In 2023, 74% of the general population was tolerant or very tolerant of wolves, up from 50% in 2017 and 41% in 2012.
“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.
Wolf hunting in Montana enjoys a high level of positive views among all groups but is seeing a decline in tolerance from the general population. The most recent survey showed that 82% of deer and elk hunters, 86% of landowners, and 100% of wolf hunters and trappers are tolerant or very tolerant of wolf hunting. That number for the general population was 58%, down from 71% in 2012.
“Overall, this shows that Montanans are supportive of wolf hunting, but within the general population that support might be waning,” said Justin Gude, a FWP research administrator.
Support for wolf regulations also was a mixed bag, with lower support from landowners and the general population (3 and 2.6 respectively on the 1 to 5 tolerance scale) than among deer and elk hunters or wolf hunters and trappers (3.4 and 3.5 respectively).
Support for wolf trapping is lower and declining among the general population, down to an average score of 2.7 from 2.9 in 2017. Support for wolf trapping is still relatively high among the other groups surveyed, with scores of 3.9 to 4.8.
On questions of general satisfaction with wolf management in Montana, the survey shows moderately low levels of satisfaction. The highest group was general residents with 33% saying they were satisfied or very satisfied with wolf management in the state. The lowest satisfaction was among landowners, at only 20.5%, who said they were satisfied or very satisfied.
The question of confidence in FWP to manage wolves also was varied. The highest confidence was among deer and elk hunters, with 45% saying they were confident or very confident in FWP’s ability to manage wolves. The lowest confidence was from landowners and the wolf hunters and trappers, who said their confidence in FWP’s ability to manage wolves was 17.2% and 18% respectively.
Other results and insights from the survey will be available in the future as results are published by the researchers in scientific journals.