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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Apr 16 2020

What Binds Us Together

University of Montana public lands survey again demonstrates conservation is a value Montanans overwhelmingly share


Every two years, the University of Montana’s Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative conducts a survey of 500 registered voters in Montana to assess where Montanans stand on public lands, conservation, and outdoor recreation, and as well as how they feel about specific legislation and other proposals affecting the management of public lands. 

For MWA, this poll serves as an opportunity to determine whether our work aligns with Montanans’ values, and whether we are doing our job building grassroots support for the proposals we champion. 

Previous years have confirmed that our work to conserve wild public lands does indeed jibe with the values of an overwhelming number of Montanans, and that we are building major support among Montanans of all political stripes for several proposals we have helped create.

This year is no different. 

In fact, this year’s public land survey, conducted during the first week of Covid-19 restrictions, reveals an uptick of support for conservation and protection of wild public lands and waters. A figure that says it all: 79% of Montanans consider themselves conservationists. 


The poll makes clear that an overwhelming majority of Montanans support more protection of our public lands


Here’s a rundown of some of the poll results addressing our work.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act

As the poll shows, Montanans appreciate locally developed, pragmatic solutions for our public lands. The gold standard for such solutions is the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.

Reintroduced by Sen. Jon Tester last year, the BCSA would add 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas, including several tributaries that are vital to the health of the Blackfoot River and its native trout populations. 

Two years ago, 73% of Montanans said they supported the BCSA. This year, 75% of Montanans say they support the bill. And, as the survey report says, “there is solid support for the [BCSA] across party lines,” with 75% of Republicans, 71% of Independents, and 82% of Democrats in favor of the legislation.

Permanent Protection for the Badger-Two Medicine

The poll found that 79% of Montanans support designating the Badger-Two Medicine a “cultural heritage area,” which would permanently protect the cultural and wildlife values of this area that is sacred to the Blackfeet Nation. 79% of Montanans also think that it’s important for the Blackfeet Tribe to have a role in managing this area. 

The Gallatin Forest Partnership Proposal

 77% of respondents also support increasing protection for the Gallatin Range including conserving wildlife habitat, protecting important headwaters, and designating new wilderness. This bodes well for our work with the Gallatin Forest Partnership, which crafted a proposal that calls for protecting more than 250,000 acres in the Gallatin and Madison Ranges, including wilderness designation for 100,000 acres in the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area south of Bozeman.

Maintaining Protection of Wilderness Study Areas

In late 2017, Sen. Steve Daines introduced legislation that would have stripped protection from five wilderness study areas in central and western Montana managed by the Forest Service – the Big Snowies, Middle Fork Judith, West Pioneers, Sapphire, and Blue Joint. Had it passed, that one bill alone would have gone down as the biggest rollback of protected public land in Montana history. Thanks to the work MWA, our members, volunteers, and partners did to show how much Montanans care about our WSAs, Daines’ bill never made it out of committee. Not surprising, given that Daines’ never gathered any public input on his proposal.

In 2018, the UM Public Lands Survey showed a mere 11% of Montanans supported Daines’ bill. Now, that bill is now even less appreciated, with only 8% of Montanans supporting it. 

New Wilderness near Lincoln

72% of Montanans support adding 55,000 acres of Wilderness in the headwaters of the Big Blackfoot River near Lincoln. This bodes well for an agreement we helped forge in 2019 among Lincoln-area residents who represent timber, outdoor recreation, and small businesses. Called the Lincoln Prosperity Proposal, the agreement addresses  public lands around Lincoln, Montana and along the Continental Divide northwest of Helena. 

Our proposal would expand the Scapegoat Wilderness Area by 16,000 acres and create a brand new 40,000-acre wilderness area for Nevada Mountain within sight of Montana’s capital city. It would also safeguard 60,000 acres as conservation management areas. 

The Will to Get It Done

The poll also shows that Montanans want Congress to act in a timely manner on these proposals once they become legislation. 27% think Congress should act within six months of the plan being submitted to Congress, 39% within one year, and 19% within two years. 

Moreover, the poll also makes clear that an overwhelming majority of Montanans support more protection of our public lands because that protection enhances our quality of life, supports tourism, enables our wildlife to thrive, maintains what is best about Montana, safeguards our culture and heritage, and boosts opportunities for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. 

We hope that our delegation, especially Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte, and other elected officials take note of this survey as a reminder that nothing quite unifies Montanans like public lands and protecting those lands, including Wilderness designation. 

Amy Robinson
Conservation Director

Amy is responsible for guiding and supporting our program work to protect more wilderness and defend our wild areas in Montana. Among other things, she enjoys exploring rivers and climbing high into remote mountains. Email Amy.