When Richard Lessner, executive director of the Madison River Foundation, first got a call about vandalism to their cooperative fencing project just south of Ennis, he was more than surprised.
He couldn’t imagine why anyone would be against the pilot project the Foundation was conducting with local ranchers in an effort to keep grazing cattle out of the Madison River.
In fact, he just figured it was an isolated incident. But the vandalism continues with about six incidents last summer and several more this year.
“We’ve just had enough of this,” Lessner said. “Our big concern is this is undoing a project that’s purpose is to benefit the river.”
The project is funded by the River Foundation with the cooperation of local ranchers and support from a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks grant and is geared to address the problem of cattle grazing on the banks of the river.
Essentially, the project consists of a portable electric fence that is moved around the grazing ground between O’Dell Creek and the Madison River. The vandalism has included taking down fences to let cattle loose, stealing fence posts, destroying chargers and opening gates, Lessner said.
“I can’t imagine what somebody thinks they’re doing because all they’re doing is damaging a project trying to help the river,” he said.
The other frustration is that since this is a pilot project, the hope is to use it to show other ranchers in the area how simple electric fencing can improve habitat and rangeland at the same time. But the vandalism could compromise that effort as well.
“It’s going to be hard to convince another rancher to do this if this is the kind of headache they’re going to get,” Lessner said.
The vandalism has been reported to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office and Madison County Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the vandals. People with information can call the Madison County Crime Stoppers number at 1-877-NOCRME1 (1-877-662-7631). Callers can remain anonymous.
Madison County Crime Stoppers is also seeking information for two other vandalism and theft incidents in the southern Madison Valley.
In the beginning of August the “Welcome to Montana” highway sign on Raynolds Pass was stolen. Thieves cut the sign posts with a chainsaw and removed the 5.5 by 11-foot sign that is shaped like the state of Montana.
Around the same time the solar panel used to power the seismograph at the Quake Lake Visitor’s Center was stolen.
Crime Stoppers is also offering a reward for information leading to an arrest in either of these two incidents.