GYC supports range riding

A Range Rider in Montana’s Centennial Valley scans for bears and wolves. Knowing where the big carnivores are helps the Range Rider help the cows be one step ahead of the grizzlies that might be in the area. (Photo GYC)

A Range Rider in Montana’s Centennial Valley scans for bears and wolves. Knowing where the big carnivores are helps the Range Rider help the cows be one step ahead of the grizzlies that might be in the area. (Photo GYC)

As grizzly bears have come back from the brink of extinction and slowly started to spread throughout Greater Yellowstone, landowners here have figured out that it’s possible to live with these majestic symbols of the wild. 

Both wildlife and ranchers call the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem home. In grizzly country like southwest Montana’s Centennial Valley, and up the Tom Miner Basin just north of Yellowstone National Park, some ranchers are calling on different techniques to keep their businesses thriving while living with the great bear. 

Ranchers set up camera traps to see if grizzlies or wolves are in the area. Cameras help identify how bears and wolves are using the land, and help influence a landowner’s decision on how and where to spend time monitoring cows. The cameras also help a landowner determine whether his or her efforts are effective. (Photo GYC)

Ranchers set up camera traps to see if grizzlies or wolves are in the area. Cameras help identify how bears and wolves are using the land, and help influence a landowner’s decision on how and where to spend time monitoring cows. The cameras also help a landowner determine whether his or her efforts are effective. (Photo GYC)

A technique like range riding, for example, is an old technique in other parts of the world, but it’s new to the United States. Instead of focusing on killing predators, range riders increase human presence on the landscape, and keep cattle bunched more tightly together, making them less vulnerable to predators. Traditional cattle management encourages cows to scatter out across the range, as until recently this was thought to be the best way to use the range. Keeping cows closer together is a new technique built on old behaviors mainly modeled by wild bison. A tighter-packed gang of cows is less vulnerable to predation than are single cows strewn across a large area. Or at least that’s the idea behind some new experiments in the Tom Miner. 

GYC’s Wildlife Associate Shana Dunkley riding her horse Jackson in the Centennial Valley. While this is important country for Yellowstone bears, who use it to roam outside the park, it’s a working landscape, with active cattle ranches. GYC is one of several groups in the ecosystem that bolsters ranchers’ efforts to keep their cows away from grizzly bears. (Photo GYC)

GYC’s Wildlife Associate Shana Dunkley riding her horse Jackson in the Centennial Valley. While this is important country for Yellowstone bears, who use it to roam outside the park, it’s a working landscape, with active cattle ranches. GYC is one of several groups in the ecosystem that bolsters ranchers’ efforts to keep their cows away from grizzly bears. (Photo GYC)

Range riding, bunching cattle, electric fence and fladry, carcass removal and other tools are helping ranchers. These take-charge tools minimize conflicts in predator country, creating more viable and sustainable ranch operations. And so far it appears that the tools are working. Participating ranchers are seeing fewer depredations when they consistently use these techniques. 

We’re one of many groups in the ecosystem that support ranchers in keeping cows safe and bears alive. “We want to keep bears alive, and ending conflicts – whether that’s with people, or with cows – is a good investment for both animals and people in Greater Yellowstone,” says GYC Executive Director Caroline Byrd. A record 61 bears were killed last year because of conflicts with people and livestock. While many of these bear deaths were due to bears getting into poorly stored food and garbage, and many others were caused by accidental run-ins with hunters in the backcountry, bears were also euthanized after killing cows and sheep. In some parts of the ecosystem, livestock conflict is the single most common cause of grizzly bear deaths. 

Shana Dunkley’s view from atop her horse Jackson. They’re rounding up and grouping cows, and looking for any sick, injured or otherwise vulnerable animals that might catch an opportunistic grizzly’s eye. Range riding is all about increasing the human presence on the landscape, and about handling a herd of cattle in a way that rekindles their herd instincts. Both these things keep cows safer from grizzlies than if they were simply turned out onto Forest Service or BLM lands and rounded up at the end of summer. (Photo GYC)

Shana Dunkley’s view from atop her horse Jackson. They’re rounding up and grouping cows, and looking for any sick, injured or otherwise vulnerable animals that might catch an opportunistic grizzly’s eye. Range riding is all about increasing the human presence on the landscape, and about handling a herd of cattle in a way that rekindles their herd instincts. Both these things keep cows safer from grizzlies than if they were simply turned out onto Forest Service or BLM lands and rounded up at the end of summer. (Photo GYC)

There’s no quick fix for this conflict in predator country. Bears and wolves are predators. Ranchers are in the business of raising prey. Conflicts will happen, and not necessarily because the humans involved are negligent. But some landowners are finding that these tools to nip future conflicts in the bud can help sustain their cattle operations.

-- Beth Kampschror, Communications Coordinator

GYC’s Shana Dunkley inspecting what’s called fladry – flags on a single strand of twine – around calving grounds in the Tom Miner. These portable fladry fences make wolves afraid; electrifying the fladry provides extra reinforcement for that fear. During springtime calving, landowners set up this electrified fladry to keep cattle in and grouped, separate from predators. This is just one tool that some landowners are using to help their ranches’ viability in predator country. (Photo GYC)

GYC’s Shana Dunkley inspecting what’s called fladry – flags on a single strand of twine – around calving grounds in the Tom Miner. These portable fladry fences make wolves afraid; electrifying the fladry provides extra reinforcement for that fear. During springtime calving, landowners set up this electrified fladry to keep cattle in and grouped, separate from predators. This is just one tool that some landowners are using to help their ranches’ viability in predator country. (Photo GYC)