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Two federal grants help Montana ranchers resolve grizzly bear conflicts

The U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture are increasing funding efforts to prevent conflicts between Montana ranchers and grizzly bears.

Madison County includes thousands of acres of working ranchland. It is also considered an important migration corridor for grizzly bears between Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.

The best indicator of bear-human coexistence, from a small airplane window several thousand feet up, is a carcass compost site near the town of Norris. There, ranchers can dispose of dead cattle – a major attractant for bears – separately from the herds.

Linda Owens is a cattle rancher and manages the carcass collection program.

“I take calls year-round, not 24 hours a day, but about 12 hours a day. When they call, I'm there,” Owens said.

Owens is part of the Madison Valley Ranchlands Group, a cooperative that helps ranchers limit conflict. The group organized a flyover to showcase practices it hopes to expand where grizzly bears are returning, as part of two federal grants worth $12 million.

Conflicts hurt a rancher’s bottom line and can lead to bears being euthanized. Owens says preventative work helps grizzly bears and local ranches survive.

“We're trying to keep ranching and keep these landscapes healthy and open. These wildlife could help us stay here and preserve this open land instead of letting it be so easily developed,” Owens said.

Gary Burnett is executive director of the Heart of the Rockies Initiative, which works on land trusts and conflict mitigation, and he said this work is critical now as grizzly bears restore their range.

“You need a big partnership across a big landscape. And you build common ground – by creating incentives or respecting local actions that contribute to wildlife connectivity at the landscape level,” Burnett said.

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

Anna Harden

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