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Two federal grants help Montana ranchers mitigate grizzly bear conflict

A grizzly bear sow and cub in Yellowstone National Park.
Jim Peaco
/
National Park Service
A grizzly bear sow and cub in Yellowstone National Park.

The U.S. Interior and Agriculture departments are funding more work to prevent conflicts between Montana ranchers and grizzly bears.

Madison county is home to tens of thousands of acres of working ranch land. It’s also seen as a key travel corridor for grizzly bears between Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.

Viewed from a small plane window a few thousand feet above ground, the cleanest indicator of cohabitation of bears and people is a carcass compost site near the town of Norris. That’s where ranchers can dispose of dead livestock — a major attractant for bears — away from herds.

Linda Owens is a rancher and leads the carcass pickup program.

“I pick up year round, not 24/7 but about 12/7. If they call, I'll be there,” Owens said.

Owens is part of the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group, a cooperative that helps ranchers limit conflicts. The group organized a flyover to showcase practices they hope will extend where grizzlies are returning under two federal grants worth $12 million.

Conflict hurts a rancher's bottom line and can lead to euthanized bears. Owens says preventative work helps grizzlies and local ranches survive.

“We're trying to keep ranching going on and keeping these landscapes healthy and open. This wildlife could help us stay here, keep this open ground instead of having it developed as easily,” Owens said.

Gary Burnett is the managing director of the Heart of the Rockies Initiative, which collaborates on land trusts and conflict reduction. He said that work is critical now as grizzlies restore their range.

“You need a big partnership across a big landscape. And, you're knitting together– incentivizing if you will, or respecting local actions that contribute to wildlife connectivity on a landscape scale,” Burnett said.

The federal grants will be administered by Heart of the Rockies and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.

John joined the Montana Public Radio team in August 2022. Born and raised in Helena, he graduated from the University of Montana’s School of Media Arts and created the Montana history podcast Land Grab. John can be contacted at john.hooks@umt.edu
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