Bridging the Gap

Yesterday I traveled to Missoula to attend the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Subcommittee meeting at the Doubletree Inn. I’m always nervous going to these meetings, especially alone, because I’m super shy and I hate talking in front of a crowd. I also can’t STAND tree huggers.
The first person I met when I walked in the door was a nice looking lady from Whitefish. Here’s how our conversation went:
Lady: “Are you here for the bear meeting?”
Me: “Yep.”
Lady: “Do you work for FWP?”
Me: “No, I’m a rancher.”
Lady: “Oh, so you hate bears.”
Just like that, I had to make a choice. Do I call her an ignorant rock licker that doesn’t know a damn thing about real life, or do I extend that olive branch and politely explain my side?
Well, thanks to all the training I got from Ryan Goodman and Sarah Bohnenkamp during the Montana Stockgrowers Leadership Class last year, I made the right decision. I told her calmly and politely that I don’t hate bears, I just want to see them managed in a way that keeps my family and my livestock safe. Suddenly, I had made a friend. She explained she was with People and Carnivores, an NGO based in Montana that focuses on reducing conflicts between humans and predators.
Because of my decision, she now has my business card and is going to call me with resource options for fencing and other supplies that many livestock and crop producers need to keep bears out. Sadly, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is so undermanned and underfunded, there’s no way they can keep up with the demand for fencing, guard dogs, propane guns, critter getters, etc. that people all over the western half of Montana are demanding.
We all have a common goal – to delist the grizzlies and minimize conflicts – so why not work together to achieve that goal instead of working against each other because we don’t share the same opinions?
Now, I’m not saying I’m going to run out and join the Sierra Club, but I think its time for us to set aside our stubborn pride and accept the help that they’re offering. After all, if your kid’s 4-H lamb is safely behind an electric fence when a bear comes in the barnyard, does it really matter who paid for that fence?
Think about it.
Until next time,
Trina Jo

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What You Need to Know about Calf-killers

The news has been full of reports of livestock kills on the Rocky Mountain Front over the last several weeks, and scores of ranchers have been scrambling to keep their herds safe.

Thankfully, our local “government trapper” Mike Hoggan, USDA Wildlife Services, has been working tirelessly to catch the bear that has been on a killing spree west of Dupuyer, and now our herds are safer and we can all breathe a sigh of relief – for now.

Fortunately for these ranchers that suffered losses, verified and probable livestock kills by grizzlies and wolves are reimbursed by the State of Montana’s Livestock Loss Board, which means the majority of these ranchers will be reimbursed for market value of their livestock.

Unfortunately, the damage this bear did goes much deeper than the pocketbook. This bear didn’t just eat some beef worth somewhere around $1.50/pound. This bear killed and ate a grown cow, which means a loss of not just that animal, but also the calf inside her, as well as turning the calf at her side into an orphan.  This led to the calf not gaining as it should, and coming in small at shipping time means more loss for the rancher. The Livestock Loss Board doesn’t cover those losses.

The same goes for the 10 heifer calves that were killed west of Dupuyer. Those were replacement heifers for a registered herd, valued at around $100,000. Again, it’s not just the monetary loss these ranchers are facing. They’re now short 10 replacements, which means future losses for the rancher due to decreased herd size.

Another factor to consider when looking at these death losses due to bears is herd health and well-being. If cows and calves are being preyed upon continuously, their stress levels are higher, which means they’re not eating as much as they should, which means the calves aren’t gaining and the pregnant cows are not getting the nutrition they need. High stress levels in cows also leads to abortion, which again means more losses for the ranchers.

All of the ranchers that had losses this fall have dealt with bears for years, and are constantly working as hard as they can to coexist with grizzlies, but the fact of the matter is there are just too many bears. These bears have learned that humans provide many excellent food sources – beef, mutton, grain, peas, etc., and these food sources are readily available. As bears become more accustomed to being around people and ranches, they get more dangerous. They also pass these learned behaviors down to their offspring, who then begin life with no fear of humans, and that’s when things really get scary.

It is time to get these grizzlies delisted so they can be better and more strictly managed in order to avoid conflicts, especially rampant killing sprees like we witnessed this fall. The only way to get this message across is to make our voices heard – not only locally, but state and nationwide. Write to your congressmen, your senators, Ryan Zinke. Show up for Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Subcommittee meetings and Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee meetings. Represent the facts. Share your story. We cannot win this fight by being silent.

Until next time,

Trina Jo

Bears…

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.