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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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.