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Survey finds Montanans support for grizzly bears strong amidst growing conflicts
Great Falls Tribune
A recent survey of Montanans shows positive attitudes toward grizzly bears and support for their presence within the state, however acceptance of grizzlies close to residential and agricultural areas is lower than on remote public lands.
Researchers with the University of Montana (UM) worked with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) biologists to better understand Montanans’ perspectives about grizzly bears and grizzly bear management in Montana. A survey questionnaire was mailed between November 2019 and January 2020 to over 5,000 households randomly selected from across Montana, and 1,783 adults responded.
A summary of the results and the full survey is available online at https://www.cfc.umt.edu/resear...ons-grizzly-bear.php.
According to the UM/FWP survey, most Montanans agree or strongly agree (92%) that grizzly bears have a right to exist in Montana, and 86% found it acceptable for bears to live in primarily forested areas that are publicly owned. When asked if grizzly bears do not belong where people live, the responses were more evenly divided: 35% agreed or strongly agreed, and 43% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.
However, a large percentage of Montanans reported knowing little about grizzly bear numbers across different geographic areas of the state, and the remainder expressed views across a spectrum from “much too low” to “much too high”.
In this map know distributions of Grizzly Bears in the continental United States are represented by cross-hatch marks. Grizzly bear populations in the North Cascades and Bitterroot ecosystems have not been confirmed.
A strong majority of Montanans supported some potential form of grizzly bear hunting, with 49% supporting enough hunting to manage grizzly bear populations; 30% supporting a very limited season that does not affect the bear's population size; and 4% supporting as much grizzly bear hunting as possible. Seventeen percent responded that grizzly bears should never be hunted in Montana.
Among livestock producers, a majority (63%) said they had or would be willing to alter livestock practices to mitigate risk of grizzly bear predation. Seventy-one percent said they had or would be willing to participate in livestock carcass removal programs.
Asked about other actions, almost all Montanans (94%) reported they had or would be willing to carry bear spray while recreating or hunting and 96% had or would be willing to follow food storage guidelines on public lands.
When asked about their emotional response to seeing a grizzly bear from a distance while walking, more Montanans reported they would be nervous, scared, and upset than those that reported they would be relaxed, not scared, and pleased.
Nineteen percent of Montanans agreed or strongly agreed that their personal safety is threatened by grizzly bears (19%), or that grizzly bears pose a safety risk to people they care about (28%).
Most Montanans (68%) reported having watched a grizzly bear from afar at least once, and almost half (48%) said they had seen a grizzly from outside of a vehicle. Just under a third knew of people who have had their property damaged by grizzly bears (31%).
Few have had an interaction with a grizzly bear that made them fear for their safety (12%); have seen a grizzly bear very close to their home (10%); or have had a grizzly bear damage their property (4%).
The trend toward reporting that grizzly bear numbers were too high was most pronounced in the area encompassing the largest grizzly bear population within Montana, known as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. Views also were skewed towards grizzly bears numbers being too high in the area surrounding the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem shared by Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
Montanans reported diverse beliefs regarding the success of grizzly bear management and their satisfaction with that management in Montana.
A majority agreed or strongly agreed that they: trust that FWP provides the public with the best available information on how to reduce grizzly bear conflict (80%); trust that FWP knows how to effectively manage grizzly bear populations (70%); trust that FWP tells the truth about grizzly bears and their population status (67%); and trust that FWP thinks in a similar way as they do (52%) regarding grizzly bears.
FWP will use the results from this study along with other public inputs to help inform grizzly bear management planning and decision-making processes going forward.
“As a state, it’s important for us to recognize and respect these various perspectives so that we can work together to find common ground that benefits people and grizzly bears," said FWP Director Martha Williams.
David Murray is Natural Resources/Agriculture reporter for the Great Falls Tribune. To contact him with comments or story ideas; email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (406) 403-3257. To preserve quality, in-depth journalism in northcentral Montana subscribe to the Great Falls Tribune.
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