Poll Finds Strong Public Support for Bison Restoration in Montana

Buffalo Bull © Ken Cole

In February the National Wildlife Federation conducted a poll of 400 Montana voters and found that they are strongly in support of bison recovery in Montana.  Particularly, 70% say they support recovery in areas such as the Spotted Dog WMA near Deer Lodge and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge which covers 1.1 million acres in central Montana.

These results run contrary to the measures that the Montana Legislature has been to trying to push through which would make reintroduction of bison illegal or subject to the approval of county commissioners.

Among other findings, the poll showed that:

  • 63% of Montanans believe that it is possible to manage wild bison in much same ways as other wildlife species such as deer and elk.
  • 70% of Montanans favor having the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and parks investigate where wild bison populations could be restored.
  • 70% of Montanans favor allowing hunters to hunt wild bison
  • 72% s of Montanans support establishing a bison population at the 26,000 acre Spotted Dog Wildlife Management Area, near Deerlodge
  • 70% of Montanans support establishing a population of wild bison in and around the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in north-central Montana.

Press Release.

Poll Results.



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  1. Daniel Berg Avatar
    Daniel Berg

    That’s an interesting survey. I would be curious to know what percentage of Montana’s population are die-hard supporters of the ranching industry and all of its positions. How many supporters on this survey would withdraw support for bison reintroduction when bombarded by the inevitable propaganda put out by the ranching industry and its political eunuchs in the event that reintroduction was seriously considered?

    1. vickif Avatar

      I would be interested as well. Support, though great in theory, is only effectibe if people act on it.
      Votes help, but in order for support to be of service, people have to make it very loud and clear. When faced with a battle of “who can buy the most politicians and lobbiests”, I wonder if that support could take the pressure?
      It would be great if these surveys impacted the way our senate/congress acted. BUt unless the surveys carry financial weight, they are just well documented opinions that we already know about.
      Figuring out how to get those supporters to make changes happen, can be like a huge black hole. Tons of ideas swirling around a void. I wish I knew how to get people to step up. I have watched the BFC do everything humanly possible to make changes, but the ag industry carries the spine of politicians in its’ pocket book.

  2. Phil Avatar

    This is a pretty good survey conducted of for the bison restoration. But, how much influence do surveys actually have on individuals and departments in regards to the purpose of the survey? The voice of people and the science to back it up should be two major influences of what should or should not occur. What I would love to see is a population of elk occur again in Michigan. The problem with this is that there may not be sustainable habitats for migration purposes for the elk. There is a small population of bison in Florida, but they are not free wild roaming bison.

    1. Ken Cole Avatar

      There are elk in Michigan. A friend of mine drew a tag about 10 years ago and got one.


      1. Phil Avatar

        Ken: There are elk in Michigan, but not a great population size. If you compare the population size in Michigan (>1,500) to that of some other states with a large population size (<100,000), the Michigan population is nearly invisible.

  3. Jerry Black Avatar
    Jerry Black

    With this high a percentage favoring bison recovery, and a lack of support from a legislature that is influenced by historical prejudice, it seems to be time to talk about a citizens initiative to reintroduce bison to these areas.

  4. Alan Avatar

    Why is it that, in America, polls always seem to show that the people we elect don’t represent us? I think the simple answer is that far too many voters do not have a clue who they are voting for. Too many people simply vote party lines without taking the time to find out what each individual candidate stands for. Too many look around and see things aren’t going very well and hear grumblings to “throw the bums out” and vote to do so without even finding out whether or not their guy (gal) is one of the “bums”, or part of the solution. To many vote for the better personality, or the better looking, or the one issue candidate. Too many listen to lies without checking the truth. Too many vote for who they are told to vote for by some radio or TV personality. Too many don’t vote at all because they do not agree with either candidate 100%, without realizing that a candidate that they can agree with 50% is better than one they can’t agree with at all. Lesser of two evils doesn’t mean you don’t vote this time, it means you work harder next time to get your guy in the race.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      A few suggestions to get more people voting.

      Voting in this country should be a national holiday. Get rid of another holiday so national voting day could take it’s place. Attach some sort of vote credit to a validated voting receipt to be used toward something of value or tax refund. Make the voting day during the late Spring or early Autumn when weather is nice.

      1. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate

        White republican construction workers/truck drivers etc.. wouldn’t get “voters day” off, just like every other holiday that they have to work through. It would just be the people voting themselves more benefits (and now a tax refund/something of value), not people who actually contribute to the tax base. Scary how this country is spiraling out of control.

        If you don’t pay taxes, you don’t vote! I like Michael Savage’s views on voting. People are just going to vote for the candidate who will give them the most “free” (to them) benefits…

        1. Ken Cole Avatar

          Oh, so in your ideal world only rich people get to vote huh? That’s bullshit.

      2. Alan Avatar

        “People are just going to vote for the candidate who will give them the most “free” (to them) benefits…”
        Wow! The results of the last election sure proved that theory wrong!
        “If you don’t pay taxes, you don’t vote!” So if you are retired, no vote? Senior, no vote? If you’ve been laid off, no vote? If you’ve been injured on the job and can’t work, no vote? If you are sick and can’t work, no vote? If your no good husband took off and left you with three kids and no job skills, no vote? Your spouse dies, you are handicapped and barely eeking by on his (her) social security, no vote? This is America, everyone who wants to vote, and is legally eligible (this is, for example, a citizen), should be able to vote. But they also have a responsibility to be educated on the issues.
        I don’t think we need a voting holiday. Personally I vote absentee in every election. I can take my time, no rush. I can study the issues, learn everything I can about the candidates, check their records, etc. All in my good time.

      3. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate

        No Ken, just people w/ jobs. Ya know, the ones who pay the bills. Last I checked construction worker and teachers aren’t rich, but they are employed and pay taxes so they would be able to vote. If you are disability or SS or whatever you don’t pay taxes so what right do they have to vote. Dunno, seems like an easy place for Dems or R’s to pander to to get votes.

        Having bums voting is a conflict of interest as far as I’m concerned.

        Ok, good day. Agree to disagree.

      4. jon Avatar

        got ya email wolf mod. Will reply back in a bit.

      5. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate

        Cool. Seeya.

      6. Alan Avatar

        “If you are disability or SS or whatever you don’t pay taxes so what right do they have to vote.” A lot of people on disability and ss have worked more years than some of us have been alive. Most of us, if we are lucky, will reach a point where we no longer have to work and pay income tax. Many rich people manage to avoid paying income tax through creative book keeping.
        Besides all that, you know what? Almost everybody pays taxes, even if they do not pay income tax. There’s property tax, capital gains tax, sales tax, car registration fees, utility tax, gasoline tax, public land usage fees, lodging tax, inheritance tax, toll road fees, hunting and fishing licenses, and God knows how many I haven’t thought of here! These are all taxes. If you have money, any money, and you spend it, you pay tax.

      7. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue

        But Wolf Mod,

        I thought all the construction workers/truck drivers are in unions, which support the dems….

        How have you are? Been out on the knobbies lately?

      8. wolf moderate Avatar
        wolf moderate

        Nice one Immer.

        Been riding quite a bit but nothing too crazy. Hope all is well w/ you.

        Watch the Faux News special on “Freeloading”. I really liked it, even though I do not like fox news. They brought up why we have Bureau of Indian Affairs and why isn’t there Hispanic Affairs etc…It was spot on. IMO of course lol. Then they had free loaders like Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen who have organic gardens and bee hives so they don’t have to pay property taxes in New Jersey. The neighbors wore bitching because these multimillionaires don’t pay there “fair share”, when they (middle class) have to.

        Anywho, not sure what this has to do w/ bison restoration so better leave it at that 🙂

    2. Salle Avatar

      Maybe we should have compulsory voting like in Australia.. don’t vote, get fined.

      Problem with getting a chance to vote out the bums is that the bums have been in office long enough to do too much damage and now it’s a little late to worry about getting anything resembling remedial legislation to be initiated. We will need a major collection of disasters to get the largest number of “voters” off their asses to do anything different than what they have been doing… 9/11 didn’t do that much for such a prompting, neither did the two wars or Katrina and all the other major prompts we’ve endured but still we have the non-voters and whack-jobs making up the majority of the vote-eligible public…?

    3. vickif Avatar

      I just posted a statement on my facebook page to attempt to make people BECOME aware. Facebook is the latest in “spreading the word”. I would encourage everyone that has access to these type of sites to do the same.

  5. Alan Avatar

    I don’t know if the problem is to get everyone to vote, though a higher percentage would be nice. I’m not even sure that everyone voting is even desirable. Look around. Do you REALLY want EVERYBODY voting. Giving people some reward for voting would be like paying for plasma donations. Every drug addict, drunk and ne’er do well would be standing in line. What we really need, IMO, is for those who do vote to be educated rather than closing their eyes and poking holes; or just looking for the (R) or (D). Non partisan voter education classes would be nice.

    1. Salle Avatar

      I heard the same argument about all citizens voting… once upon a time, before I was old enough to vote, you had to actually graduate from high school (age-wise) which also meant that you had at least two or three classes in civics and/or government. I realize I was privileged in being educated in a state that prized intellect but that’s not the case all over the country… and I traveled a lot and was present at a number of historical events, and knew what it was about at the time.

      I like the idea of educating voters but that’s a big ticket item these days when many are not even close to understanding what their responsibilities as a citizen are. that’s why we have loud-mouthed charlatans gaining in elections. Hell, W’s big draw was that people liked him because they felt they could sit down and have a beer with him cuz he’s so “down to earth”. If he had been anywhere near this planet, mentally/intellectually, he might have been a halfway decent leader, but no. Now look what we have, a second generation of his imbecilic pretzel logic that is hell-bent on destroying this nation for personal gain.

      1. vickif Avatar

        Even if you required voting, or rewarded it, who’s ideology would they back? ANd how do you ensur ethey are given am education on all of the issues in need of atention? Or that the explainations they get are not political, but factual, in their inception?
        I encourage people to google basics: wolves, ESA, bison. public land grazing, and then they get a chance to view a number of views, and can make an informed choice. But no choice is every easy to get…there is always mumbo jumbo that could take away from the core of things.

    1. Alan Avatar

      “Organizers tell the newspaper they want to have a united voice in dealing not only with bison, but also wolves, water, grazing and private property rights…..” I’m all for private property rights, but what about our PUBLIC PROPERTY RIGHTS? Get your cows off of our public lands and leave our public wildlife alone.

    2. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      I’ll admit that I really don’t have an iron in this fire, but I am just addled by the attitude about bison. Talk about a “native” species that is well adapted to the NRM states and more. In terms of meat, yeah I’m a carnivore, the bison I have eaten was great.

      I’d be willing to pay the price for non-hormon laden, non-antibiotic loaded, low fat meat. Okay, they aren’t as docile as cattle, but would more bison on the scene not end some of the problems that exist in terms of wolf/livestock predation? ….

  6. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Polls like this never seem to accomplish much. I have read that 70% of Coloradans supported wolf restoration in the book Return of the Wolf: Successes and Threats in the United States in Canada (I can’t remember what year the poll was done). If 70% of the residents want them it seems like their elected officials are not listening to them much or are bowing to the ranching and hunting lobbies.

    1. JB Avatar

      The study was conducted in 1994 by researchers at CSU, when the FWS was looking at Colorado as a possible site for reintroduction. Results found that 70.8% (+/- 4%) would vote in favor of wolf reintroduction if given the opportunity. However, ultimately FWS concluded that habitat was too fragmented–and they worried about wolves moving into urbanized areas in Estes Park (where elk winter).

      You might be interested to know that the same lab used the same methodology (and underlying theory) to determine CO residents’ support/opposition to a trapping ban. They found widespread support for banning the use of foothold traps in CO. When the trapper’s association in CO went behind the scenes and had regulation of trapping moved from CDW to Agriculture, some citizens proposed a ballot initiative to ban trapping that ultimately passed.

      1. vickif Avatar

        DOW here (I am in Colorado) determined habitat was fragmented. I wonder how much habitat was considered and excluded based on ranch lands, or tiny towns where people would reap financial rewards of wolf watching? It find it fascinating. They worry that wolves would end up in Estes Park where elk winter (who are we kidding-elk relax at a this resort where they are artificially kept over populated)? Ironic, as the wolves would have to find them, and stay put. This particular elk herd doesn’t seem to wonder too far from the free food in Estes. Estes is relatively small compared to the entire state.

        I am certain that eventually some wolves would end up there (there was a supposed confirmed sighting in RMNP about 5 years ago-rangers denied knowledge and no documentation occured. I saw the tracks myself, they were not coyote tracks). However, not EVERY wolf would.

        These same type of studies were done ( I believe) to determine if grizzlies could be sustained in CO, and it was decided, the habitat was too fragmented.

        I wonder how fragmented the GYE is? Or the out lying areas? I wonder how long it will be before all habitat in the lower 48 is too fragmented and people will be forced to live with wildlife as it adapts to sharing what little habitat man has not built high-rises on? Where will animals go? Central Park maybe?

        Stressful when you think about it….

      2. Immer Treue Avatar
        Immer Treue


        I’ve just recently finished Cat Ubrigkit’s “Wolves in Yellowstone” (Review in the making) and I was surprised at the elk feedlots existing as per her book. Surprise but the wolves sure did find those elk.

        Another sign of too many elk/habitat destruction.

      3. JB Avatar


        There was a more recent discussion about restoring wolves to RMNP. Here is the Park superintendent’s view:


  7. vickif Avatar

    I think the elk in those feed lots (I could be wrong-wouldn’t be the first time) do migrate from the other side of the GYE to those lots each year. The elk in the Estes area don’t move far from the boundaries. Hunters even joke about not being able to shoot them because they are in the yard with people’s dogs.

    Given that there were wolves introduced into the area where the northern elk herds would migrate from, it was likely that a pack, or several, might follow.

    I am certain somebody here has to be more familiar with the elk migration in that area.

    I hate the idea of feed lots. They are like one huge incubator attatched to a ticking time bomb. It is a matter of time before they blow up and cause wide spread detrament.

    I will do some research to be sure, but I have always been told that the elk in and immediately around the RMNP don’t migrate nearly as far as most elk would normally. The building around the park’s boundaries kept them wrangled in, and then the developing tourist towns created artificial wintering grounds. (Spectators literally gather at the golf course in Estes to observe the harems in the fall. Those elk, if in another location, would have moved quite a bit lower to find wintering range.)

    I agree with you, but the suprise is not so fabulous! lol. The Estes elk are equal to those in feed lots. But not every wolf pack that travels to CO would find their way to RMNP. Not every wolf that found their way there would stay there, or IMHO they wouldn’t. There are people in the face of those elk all year long. I doubt wolves would find the crowds too comforting.

    There are places wolves could go and never be found here. I even hear from a few people I know in certain areas that there are wolves. They won’t report them because they may end up ticking off a neighbor or don’t want to deal with the politics of having them there, or the media.

    I think this will be a matter of more national attention as it increases it’s range to other states.


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole