Tuesday, April 19, I attended the spring Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) committee meeting in Choteau. While there, committee chair Jim Williams acknowledged that because of an increased number of grizzlies, ranchers have changed the way they operate at a great cost to themselves.
I don’t know of any ranchers – especially west of Highway 89 – that haven’t had to put up electric fences, or avoid using certain pastures, or had to be armed every time they leave the house, or started driving from the house to the barn because it’s not safe to walk that half mile anymore.
Cases of grizzlies vs. livestock have increased every year due to both the population growth as well as the desensitization of these bears. They are no longer scared of people, and they know where there are people, cattle and sheep, there is an endless supply of food. This comes at a cost of thousands of dollars every year to the ranchers, with very little assistance from the government to make up for these losses.
However, a great resource that we have is the Montana Department of Livestock’s Livestock Loss Board. Their mission is, “To help support Montana Livestock communities by reducing the economic impacts of wolves and grizzly bears on individual producers by reimbursing confirmed and probable wolf or grizzly bear caused losses and helping to reduce their losses by approving projects and funding programs that will discourage wolves and grizzly bears from killing livestock.”
Last year, in Pondera County alone, the Livestock Loss Board had 14 confirmed grizzly kills, and paid out $11,124.63. In total, the Board reported 168 confirmed grizzly and wolf kills, and paid out $191,895.63. That comes nowhere near what the actual monetary damage was to those producers, but it helps soften the blow.
For more information on the Livestock Loss Board, I encourage you to talk to George Edwards at (406) 444-5609, or visit their website – http://liv.mt.gov/llb/default.mcpx.