Montana public disagrees with bison management proposals

Shocking public opinion poll on bison in Montana-

A random sample survey of 500 Montana registered voters just released shows that Montanans strongly support free roaming bison on some public lands in the state outside of Yellowstone Park, where they are essentially confined in a legal sense and subject to frequent mass cullings. Folks in Montana also overwhelming support tribal efforts to have wild bison on reservation lands. In other words, “nearly eight in ten Montana voters support restoring wild bison populations on public lands (76% support) and on tribal lands (78% support).”

County politicians in Montana have been making bison policy decisions that affect all of Montana and all Americans, but the poll shows “Seventy four (74%) percent think decisions about wild bison should be made by biologists and wildlife officials rather than county politicians.”

Two-thirds said they supported efforts to start up new, disease free bison herds around the state. 72% want bison managed like other wildlife, not as livestock, despite the best attempts by the Montana Department of Livestock and many in the state legislature to reduce bison to the lowly position of livestock.

There is a whole slew of proposals in the new state legislature on bison management, and the public rejects all of them. They are “Reclassify all wild bison in Montana as livestock  so they are managed as livestock instead of as  wildlife”  18% 78%  rejected. “Prohibit the establishment of any wild bison  population in the state of Montana”  29% 63% rejected.  “Allow private landowners to shoot any wild  bison that enter onto private land” 35% 60%  rejected, and “Establish a year-round hunting season for bison  in Montana” 34% 59% rejected.

Of course, just because the public really dislikes the management policies now advocated by many (a majority?) of Montana politicians does not mean these measures will not be passed by the legislature. In the past, voting against the public on these issues has not seemed to have hurt anyone running for office in Montana.

Tulchin Research conducted the survey for Defenders of Wildlife. Here is the report summary (PDF file).



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  1. snaildarter Avatar

    It amazes me how a small group of cattlemen and their government buddies can hold the will of the people at bay.

  2. Richie G Avatar
    Richie G

    That is what happens with wealthy powerful people, not all but a big majority feel this way. When people get power something happens to them inside, it is sad and a shameful thing.

  3. Ken Watts Avatar
    Ken Watts

    I suspect the survey may be biased considering who paid for it. Follow the money!

    1. skyrim Avatar

      Of course it’s biased. You disagree with the conclusions.

      1. WyoWolfFan Avatar

        Isn’t that how it always is when someone disagrees with something? It’s automatically biased.

  4. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    Ken Watts:
    Survey Methodology: From December 17-21, 2014, Tulchin Research conducted a telephone survey using professional interviewers calling both landlines and cell phones among 500 registered voters in Montana. The margin of error for this survey is +/- 4.38 percentage points.

  5. cj Avatar

    Politics should be kept out of this arena. Why? Because they never went for schooling in that area. Politics is not conservation. If they did their views would vary greatly from the random “culling”. Even the word is a cover up of the truth. So yes. Follow the money and those with the money will make policy. However, is that policy and the group with the money have the right intent. There is intent and there is intent. Open minds, open heart and the true nature will reveal itself when the intent is sustainable and good for all. The bullying of politics will always be something our conservationist will have to deal with. In the end though, once a species is gone it is gone, whether it be bison, wolf, bear or human.

  6. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    Yellowstone NP is hiring a social scientist to learn public priorities in nearby communities regarding bison and other wildlife. I’m not sure what the best method is to remove livestock when conflicts arise with bison, but there is no doubt it will take a fair amount of money to buy off some of the permittee’s that graze livestock on nearby allotments. There are CO’s that do just that. It took a lot of money to re-introduce wolves and it will do the same for bison to disperse to more of their native habitat.

    As for the poll Mr. Ken Watts, why do you think the poll was taken by Defenders? Maybe all of the anti-bison bills in the legislature! Considering that livestock industry is one of the larger income producers in Montana, I would think that a nationwide poll would show even higher public opinion of bison.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I think Defenders suspected that the reality was strong Montana public support for bison (largely unorganized of course) with the actual policy on the ground made by an unrepresentative elite from the livestock industry.

      It wasn’t a hard guess. They might have been surprised how one sided the public opinion actually was.

      It is important to have this public knowledge because often people will shy away from supporting something publicly if they think it is a minority viewpoint. Knowing that it is a strong majority inspires confidence.

  7. Elk375 Avatar

    If the Montana public disagrees with the current bison management why does the majority of voters vote Republican. There are a large number of anti wildlife, anti bison bills being introduced in this current legislative session mostly introduced by Republican legislators.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      That is because it is not a voting issue for many people. It is not because most candidates do not take a public position on it. It is hard to choose (as a voter) if you don’t know how candidates differ from each other.

      1. Louise Kane Avatar

        i think too that sometimes candidates are also afraid to take public stands on conservation or wildlife protection. They are afraid to be perceived as anti hunter/ anti gun or god forbid to be classed as an “environmentalists”. It’s ironic that people who fight to maintain and protect public resources and are environmentalists are now equated as bunny huggers, clueless liberals, or people who put animal welfare and ecological considerations above jobs and the economy.

        Jobs and the economy are seemingly the only issues that ever matter anymore. In fact, according to conservatives without the pipeline we are doomed to loose thousands of jobs.

        Conservatives have conducted excellent smear campaigns that belittle conservationists and lump them all together into easily dismissed radical lunatics. Funny, instead of being fearful of that label people should be proud of it.

    2. timz Avatar

      Everyone knows, except for you apparently, most voters go to the polls clueless.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    There is a story in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle about the poll and the bills in the state legislature.

  9. Louise Kane Avatar

    One thing this story does is to provide one more example of how politicians will vote against their constituent’s wishes when there are big lobbies involved. Who ar ether supposed to be working for, it’s not us most of the time. I think if politicians voted as their constituents wished we would see much fairer, more humane laws. Congress is hijacked by special interest money from powerful corporations that now are treated as citizens under the two worst supreme court decisions ever handed down.

    1. timz Avatar

      “Congress is hijacked by special interest money from powerful corporations that now are treated as citizens under the two worst supreme court decisions ever handed down.”

      I think it happened long before that Supreme Court decision.

  10. Richie G Avatar
    Richie G

    Special interest always wins out, it is just now that it is worse than ever. This is really a bad thing for our country. Look what is going on now with the XL pipeline Mitch McConnell is calling it a jobs creator. He is a lying sack of blank, why not pass a infrastructure bill, the whole thing stinks. We need more attention to our wildlife ,which Obama has no clue, he does not care about the wildlife, and yes I said this before.

  11. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    I would suspect if you added all of the tourists, hunting, fishing, and recreation (hiking, wildlife viewing, boating, etc.) revenue it would far outweigh all of the ranching income produced in Montana. Unfortunately, there may not be enough “organized pressure” on the politicians to keep wild places undeveloped so that these activities can maintain or even expand.

    Somehow all of the organizations that depend on undeveloped wild places need to be the “squeaky wheel that gets the grease”. Money drives politicians and there is a lot of money to be made where bison are able to roam free outside Yellowstone NP.

  12. MJ Avatar

    This is not surprising at all, this is the way that things work very often. Close to 85% of voters strongly support humane treatment of animals and wildlife, whether it is wolf restoration, ending bullfighting in Latin countries, ending greyhound racing in Florida, or banning ivory. This is consistent actually.

    Also it is then consistent that whatever industry benefits from the consumptive and/or lethal use of animals for a profit will exert political pressure to nip any protections in the bud. Politicians lobby for money to support campaigns, that is how they are elected, and that is how policy is formed.

  13. snaildarter Avatar

    I first rule of lobbying is to discredit your adversaries data. So saying the study is biased standard procedure. However 78% is pretty strong so I seriously doubt the anti-Bison folks have a leg to stand on.
    If you objectively explain the issue to people they all become outraged at the unfairness of the Bison haters. This is the sort of thing that turn politicians maybe there is hope for change.

  14. Dominique Avatar

    This is good news to have this information at hand, it just proves that our obstacles are that, this information is not getting to the public. I know that the billboard campaign in Missouri against horse slaughter that we did a few years ago, really helped get the word out to the public to have a voice. Something has to break that wall to inform the public what their options are, and to change the system as it is now, where the special interest groups make the rules for our wildlife. We have to offer them options of empowerment that their votes count, which is how it should be, the wildlife belongs to all of us as a society and collective, not to any one group or agency to decide, it needs to go on the ballots in the voting booth.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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