THE LOCAL NEWS OF THE MADISON VALLEY, RUBY VALLEY AND SURROUNDING AREAS

Albert Sommers, a rancher and state legislator from Pinedale, Wyoming speaks to over 100 people at the Alder Fire Hall at the Sustaining Working Lands Amidst Large Carnivores event Nov. 15. Photo provided by Western Landowners Alliance.

Ranching with large carnivores

BY HANNAH KEARSE news@madisoniannews.com Regional landowners lead an effort to improve compatibility between healthy grizzly bear populations and healthy ranching communities. Grizzly bear and wolf predation is one of the biggest challenges that ranchers
“Many livestock operations in the West represent a form of agriculture deeply compatible and even synergistic with wildlife and wide-open beauty,” Associate Director of Western Landowners Alliance Cole Mannix said. “Of course, managing for this balance is a big ongoing challenge, and this is why we are meeting.”

Regional landowners lead an effort to improve compatibility between healthy grizzly bear populations and healthy ranching communities.

Grizzly bear and wolf predation is one of the biggest challenges that ranchers face. Some grazing allotments on Montana’s public lands are overlapping grizzly bear distributions. Potential solutions can benefit livestock producers, conservationists and wildlife agencies. 

Over 100 people with a stake in grizzly bear management in Montana convened with the Western Landowners Alliance, Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance and Madison Valley Ranchlands Group at the Alder Firehall Nov. 15. 

“Many livestock operations in the West represent a form of agriculture deeply compatible and even synergistic with wildlife and wide-open beauty,” Associate Director of Western Landowners Alliance Cole Mannix said. “Of course, managing for this balance is a big ongoing challenge, and this is why we are meeting.”

Lost livestock on rangelands in the Gravelly Mountains increased from zero in 2014 to at least 29 confirmed predations in 2018. 

“The presence of this challenge is a good thing,” Cole Mannix said. “If the tension went away, there would really be something lost.”

The protocol for predator conflicts with livestock is to contact Wildlife Services. Livestock producers can be compensated for lost livestock if predation can be confirmed. 

“For every one you can account for, you miss some,” Mannix said. 

The time between the conflict and locating the carcass can be while. With each passing day, it is harder to confirm a predator kill. Often, lost livestock go unaccounted for in Montana’s vast grazing lands, but the loss value is present in the ranches’ finances. 

Montana has a 1:1 compensation ratio, full market value for a confirmed livestock predation is compensated. Wyoming offsets unreported lost livestock by compensating three times the market value for every confirmed livestock predation. 

Wyoming’s 3:1 compensation ratio also accounts for the rippling effects of increased conflicts. Stressors on livestock can lead to lower levels of reproduction and lower weights. Working landscapes in areas of increased predation puts pressure on ranchers to time slaughters around conflicts rather than ideal profitable weights. 

Montana landowners expressed their needs at the Alder meeting, including more support from Fish, Wildlife & Parks, United States Forest Service and Wildlife Services. For their industry to coexist in the increasing presence of large carnivores, they said they needed increased FWP and Wildlife Services capacity and personnel on the ground to help with prevention. The ability for agencies to respond and verify conflicts in a timely manner, and adequate compensation for livestock losses is needed. Landowners also said that longer tenure for the local USFS staff who work with ranchers, and stronger relationships with local USFS partners is needed. 

“Having this many people in the room with this many different perspectives, we’re on our way to better communication,” Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest District Ranger Dale Olson said. 

Western Landowners Alliance and partners are addressing wildlife-related issues across the West through its initiative, Working Wild Challenge in the Northern Rockies. The public meeting in Alder was the first of seven that will facilitate an exchange of information between landowners making a living as livestock producers among large carnivores.

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