Grizzly bears pose a real threat to ranchers and livestock. The federal plan to reintroduce grizzly bears to the Washington Cascades has received significant pushback, and recent conflicts with bears in Oregon and Idaho have highlighted the struggle between conservation and preservation.

Ranchers and small communities will have to learn to co-exist with bears. But there's more to it than just grabbing a gun and praying for the best. Recently, the USDA and USFWS have offered insights from efforts in Montana's Blackfoot Valley to help ranchers reduce their losses and keep their livestock, workers, and families safe.

Montana's efforts to reduce rancher-bear conflicts

A number of strategies have worked in Montana to help ranchers live safely alongside bears. These include:

Calf carcass cleanup: Ranchers collect carcasses of failed calves at least twice a week during the calving season, and take them to a composting site away from the ranches (run by Montana Department of Transportation). This helps stay one step ahead of the bears, reducing their chance to get a taste of beef. It also removes the attractant of carcasses for bears and other predators like wolves or mountain lions.

Strategic electric fencing: Rather than wrap the entire ranch in electric fencing, ranchers protect their headquarters and calving areas with six-wire electric fencing, and three- or five- wire fencing in other vulnerable areas.

Electric mats in place of gates: Instead of manual gates, ranchers can install electric drive-over mats where electric fencing is used. This helps keep bears and other animals out, without worrying about opening and closing gates throughout the day, as illustrated in this short video:

Secured animal feed: Feed is secured in metal cargo containers that bears can't access or break into.

Range riders: Riders regularly patrol the ranch, taking note of nervous livestock, looking for tracks, and checking for maintenance issues. Not only does this help ranch operations, but it also puts regular human presence in areas to deter bears from wanting to get close.

Bear deterrence isn't cheap and can't be done alone

Wayne Slaght, the rancher featured by the USDA, notes one key issue: while the burden is on ranchers, they can't do it alone. It requires partnership from local, state, and federal organizations to put all these measures in place. Said Slaght:

“Without these partners, we cannot do these projects because they just cost too much, and this is all on us."

As new grizzly introduction plans get underway, ranchers and producers will need to put pressure on local agencies to offer grants and assistance in protecting their operations.

Map of grizzly bear recovery zones in the US
US Fish and Wildlife Service
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Thinking bear-smart

The goal of ranchers should be to make it more difficult for bears to hunt cattle and other livestock than it is to hunt elk, deer, and other wild prey. Bears will always take the easiest option.

It's also important to consider other aspects of bear prevention on the ranch, including protecting compost, clearing away fallen fruits and nuts, and keeping areas well lit.

For local resources to deal with grizzly bears or other wildlife, contact your local NRCS office.

What "TO DO" and What "NOT TO DO" if You See a Bear And the Bear Sees You...

Intimate Look at Idaho Grizzly Bear Den

It isn't every day that you get to see such a marvel in nature--here in Idaho we're surrounded by it, but sometimes we just don't know what to look for!

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game recently shared some photos of their discovery in the wild and it's so amazing to see!

Gallery Credit: Credit: Mateo, 103.5 KISS FM