It was a bluebird day out near Alder, Montana, a tight-knit ranching community located between the Tobacco Root Mountains and Gravelly Mountains. Our team pulled onto a snowy road at the Ruby Dell Ranch to talk to our friend, cattle rancher John Anderson.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is committed to visiting with ranchers in the Ruby Valley to hear their stories related to livestock and carnivore encounters. While we know that grizzlies are expanding and ranchers are in their path, we don’t know what’s happening on the ground. Montana Conservation Coordinator Darcie Warden and I are leading the charge to lend an ear and learn about what ranchers and their employees need to live and thrive on the landscape with grizzly bears.
Our team knows John Anderson through Greater Yellowstone Coalition’s participation in the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance. We sat down at his kitchen table with his herdsmen Amber Mason and Andy Peterson, fondly referred to as “The A-Team.” Every summer, Amber and Andy drive the cattle for six days to their grazing allotment in the Gravelly Mountain Range. Over the past ten years, they have noticed an increase in grizzly bear encounters while up on the public allotment. Their biggest concern is human safety with so many grizzlies on the landscape. Both Andy and Amber suggested workshops or public meetings to learn about bear behavior to gain more tools and skills .
Another significant concern is ensuring compensation for bears killing his cows and calves. In order to receive compensation, carcasses must be investigated to confirm the cause of death. Determining whether the animal died of predation or natural causes and was scavenged involves skinning the carcass to look for indicators of a bear kill like bite marks, bruising, and hemorrhaging. This sort of confirmation can be challenging in a landscape where missing cows aren’t always found, and carcasses don’t last long because of a variety of carnivores that take advantage of the opportunity to scavenge. Grizzly bears are very protective of their food, so Amber and Andy need to be vigilant while they ride with the cattle in case they stumble upon a carcass, either killed or scavenged. Understanding bear behavior around these carcasses will help keep them safe.
As the grizzly population continues to expand into new places, there’s no denying that the number of bear encounters with livestock is increasing. GYC will continue to meet with ranchers, listen, and together work to find solutions on the ground to keep people safe, bears wild, and ensure people and bears can live together on shared landscapes.
—Brooke Shifrin, Wildlife Program Associate