A decade ago, Montana was still embroiled in the debate over wolf introduction in the Northern Rockies, with lawsuits and debate over hunting versus keeping them as an "endangered species."

But now, a new study suggests most Montanans have reached a point of tolerating the predators, or at least allowing their attitudes about wolves to shift.

Those findings are based on three separate surveys, taken over 5-year intervals by researchers with the University of Montana and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

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Results based on surveys sent to 10,000 Montanans

The sample size of the survey is sizable and includes a variety of stakeholders involved in the wolf issue, including deer and elk hunters, landowners, wolf hunters and trappers, and the general public. It asked people to rate their tolerance on a scale of 1-to-5, with the higher number being "very tolerant."

The survey was taken in 2012 when the wolf debate was reaching a peak, and again in 2017 and 2023.

Survey shows growing tolerance for wolves

Last year, 74% of the general population, including hunters, said they were "tolerant" or "very tolerant" of wolves. That compares with 50% in 2017 and 41% in the first survey in 2012.

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

Hunting and management concerns

However, the question of how to manage wolves is more fractured. The study showed that while hunters and trappers, plus landowners, are supportive of wolf hunting, support among the general population dropped to 58%, compared to 71% in the first study.

Support for wolf regulations also varied among the four groups, with support for wolf trapping dropping among the general population. And 45% of the hunters expressed confidence in FWP's ability to manage wolf populations, but that number dropped to less than 20% among wolf hunters and trappers.

"We know people have complicated views and values on wolves, which is reflected in the results of the survey and the trends we see," -Quentin Kujala, the chief of conservation policy at FWP.

Kujala says it will be important for FWP and UM to continue the research as the state continues to navigate the question of managing wolves in the Northern Rockies.

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Gallery Credit: Dennis Bragg