There’s no doubt about it: Montanans want grizzly bears in Montana. According to a new survey released by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), 92 percent of Montanans agree or strongly agree that grizzly bears have a right to exist in their state.
The survey, which was a collaboration between FWP and the University of Montana, assessed responses from over one-thousand Montanans on their attitudes about grizzlies and grizzly bear management.
Here’s what you need to know from the report:
Montanans overwhelmingly feel positively about grizzly bears.
Eight-five percent agreed or strongly agreed that grizzlies are part of what makes Montana special, and 75 percent agreed that it is important to maintain a self-sustaining grizzly bear population in the state.
Just the mere idea of these bears was important: Eighty-one percent of respondents stated that they enjoyed knowing that grizzly bears existed in Montana even if they’d never seen a grizzly.
Most people find grizzlies pretty, too, with 89 percent of Montanans agreeing or strongly agreeing that grizzlies are beautiful creatures.
Montanans did not feel grizzly bears risked their safety or livelihoods.
When asked whether their personal safety was threatened by grizzlies, most respondents said no or were neutral on the topic (32 percent – strongly disagree, 23 – disagree, 18 percent – neutral).
Similarly, 47 percent and 29 percent of Montanans strongly disagreed, or disagreed respectively, that grizzlies negatively impacted their economic well-being.
Though Montanans want grizzlies in their state, they don’t want them everywhere.
Most Montanans think grizzlies should live in forested, public lands; 86 percent of people agreed or strongly agreed with bear presence in such a habitat.
Fewer respondents wanted grizzlies in agricultural or human-dense areas.
When asked whether it was acceptable for grizzlies to live in agricultural landscapes populated with small towns, 35 percent of respondents said it was unacceptable or very unacceptable, with 25 percent neutral.
As for suburban and urban residential areas, 77 percent of respondents said bear presence was very unacceptable or unacceptable in such environments. Grizzly bears are largely thought to be increasing in numbers and expanding their ranges in the Mountain West, though this is not actually the case.
Unfortunately, Montanans still believe we should use hunting to manage grizzly bears.
Only 17 percent of respondents said grizzlies should never be hunted, while 49 percent responded that grizzlies should be hunted to manage populations. Thirty percent responded that grizzlies should be hunted in limited numbers that do not affect population sizes.
The belief that hunting is an effective management tool for grizzlies prevails in many communities and states, despite evidence showing it’s not.
Montanans are striving to mitigate human-bear conflicts.
Sixty-percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that Montanans need to learn how to live with grizzly bears near their homes. That often means putting mitigation efforts into place; for example, securing attractants such as bird feeders, pet food or garbage on your property.
Ninety-one percent of respondents said they had already or would be willing to secure attractants on their land. Additionally, 96 percent said they already or are willing to follow food storage guidelines when on public lands.
Many ranchers are willing to help bears out.
Sixty-three percent of livestock producers reported that they had already, or would be willing, to alter their practices to decrease grizzly-livestock conflict and predation. Overwhelmingly, 71 percent also said they had or would be willing to participate in livestock carcass removal programs, and as we know, proper carcass removal of livestock on ranchlands helps keep grizzlies safe.
Frustratingly, 37 percent of livestock-owners said they would not alter their practices, and 29 percent reported unwillingness to participate in carcass removal programs.
Montanans aren’t sure how to best prevent unwanted encounters with grizzlies.
The evidence is clear: bear spray is more effective than a firearm in preventing unwanted encounters with bears.
Yet, 19 percent of Montanans still believe the best tool in a negative human-bear encounter is a gun; 29 percent said bear spray and guns are equally effective, and 25 percent said they did not know.
Luckily, the majority of Montanans carry bear spray.
When hunting or recreating, 66 percent of respondents said they carried bear spray.
Even better news: 28 percent said they don’t currently carry it but would be willing to, while only 6 percent said they would be unwilling.
The hope is that these data will help inform the state’s decision-making processes and management choices around grizzly bears. Certainly, the survey shows there are still significant hurdles to overcome in the hunting and ranching communities in Montana when it comes to bear management.
Results also show, however, widespread support for bears on the landscape, paired with a willingness to adopt practices that help keep bear populations healthy and human-bear conflicts minimal. That willingness means with the right resources, support, and education, Montana can make progress towards better conservation of the wild and beautiful creatures that are clearly an integral and valued part of their state’s identity.