Four surveys sent out last spring by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks found that there is generally a low tolerance for wolves on the landscape and general acceptance of wolf hunting.
The results of the surveys were presented to members of the FWP Commission at its meeting in Helena on Thursday. Montana’s wolf hunting season for archers opens on Saturday across the state.
The surveys were broken down among four different groups. Montana households was the most diverse group; deer and elk hunters; resident landowners who own 160 acres or more, and wolf hunters.
Even among the 1,500 random households surveyed, only one-third of the respondents were tolerant of wolves on the landscape, the survey found. The mailed surveys had about a 40 percent response rate among households contacted.
Commissioner Ron Moody said he would not use the information to make a decision because there is so much cultural diversity between rural and urban Montanans that the survey of households didn’t tease out.
“A Montana household as a metric for a nonhunting public is important, but I don’t think we’ll ever have one number that reflects that diversity,” he said.
Landowners, as a group, were the least tolerant of wolves on the landscape.
The surveys also found a high tolerance for wolf hunting in Montana, even among households who were tolerant of wolves being on the landscape. Among the random households, almost 60 percent were very tolerant of wolf hunting.
“Our conclusion is that Montana’s wolf hunt significantly increased satisfaction with wolf management in the state,” said Mike Lewis, who helped compile the survey and gave the report to the commission.
Before the hunt, there was general dissatisfaction among all groups with the state’s wolf management.
Moody pointed out that the survey was likely swayed by the fact that the state had not had a hunt before last year because lawsuits stalled the state’s proposed hunt.
“It is fascinating to see how attitudes shifted so much after we had our wolf season,” said Shane Colton, FWP commissioner from Billings.
The numbers validate the commission’s decisions on wolf management, he added.
Among the respondents, the survey also found that 26 percent of the randomly selected household residents may purchase a wolf hunting license in the future, compared with 25 percent of landowners, 50 percent of deer and elk hunters and 87 percent of the wolf hunters.
The surveys also found more than 70 percent of respondents across all of the groups supported using the money from wolf license sales to kill wolves outside of the hunting season where elk or deer numbers are below management objectives or to kill wolves involved in cattle depredations. Forty to 60 percent supported using tax dollars for the same measures, an unusually high amount in a state where residents traditionally are against spending tax dollars for anything, Lewis said.
It was noted by FWP commissioners though, that wolf license sales don’t even cover the cost of wolf management in the state – a $600,000 annual drain on the agency’s budget.
Commission chairman Bob Ream said it will be important to send out a similar survey following the 2012 season, the first season that will include trapping.
Wildlife bureau chief Ken McDonald told the commission that 1,600 people have indicated an interest in taking a wolf-trapping education class. McDonald said the agency will set up classes of no more than 50 people each this fall and include a field day to demonstrate trap setting.
“So it’s going to be a huge effort by the department to accommodate trapper education,” he said.