Wolves and grizzlies face constant pressure in the West, especially in areas where they encounter livestock. That’s why our wolf and grizzly bear team took to the road last week to learn more about how Defenders can help ranchers continue to coexist with both animals on the landscape. The field report below comes from our veteran wolf expert Suzanne Stone, grizzly bear expert Erin Edge who will now be helping out with wolves in Montana as well, and Kylie Paul–the newest addition to Defenders in Montana, who will be helping with grizzly bears, wolves and other important critters in the Northern Rockies.
Over the course of four days, we spent time visiting field sites for current or future wolf and grizzly coexistence projects in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. It was an informative and fantastic week to tour some beautiful, wild country now that spring is in full swing.
Our first stops were in Paradise Valley and Tom Miner Basin outside of Gardiner, Montana, adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. As you might expect, the same wildlife that helped to draw over 3 million visitors to Yellowstone last year also range outside park boundaries. As a result, grizzly bears and wolves share the same landscape as the many cattle and sheep that are maintained on ranches bordering the park. In the past, Defenders has worked on small projects in the area to reduce conflict between livestock and wildlife, and we hope to develop more partnership opportunities going forward.
While in Yellowstone, we visited with several wolf experts, including Doug Smith, lead wolf biologist for the National Park Service. The following day, we crossed through the park into Wyoming and, of course, stopped to view amazing fauna of all sizes. As part of our tour of the park, we were invited by Nathan Varley of The Wild Side tour group to make a presentation about our work to a large class of college students from Virginia on a field trip. We enjoyed talking about wolf and grizzly bear coexistence, and wildlife and highways with these students.
Passing into the sagebrush hills of Wyoming, we visited the Arapaho ranch on the Wind River Reservation to discuss their current efforts to coexist with wolves and grizzly bears. They are already using methodologies recommended to reduce livestock depredations, such as having several range riders staying with the cattle and moving them frequently in managed herds. Hearing about that kind of responsible management in the region was music to our ears!
From Wyoming, we headed northeast to Red Lodge, Montana, to visit a ranch where Defenders has collaborated on a range rider coexistence project for several years. Range riders stay with the cattle when predators are near, reducing the likelihood that predators will prey on livestock. We toured the ranch to view key locations of grizzly bear and wolf sightings and gave a presentation to the ranch staff about living with wolves and grizzly bears. We talked over options to reduce grizzly bear conflicts on the property, including electric fencing for chicken coops, securing garbage containers, removing birdfeeders and redistributing carcasses. Additionally, we talked about safety in bear country and the need for staff and guests to carry and know how to use bear spray. In return, they kindly offered us a wonderful lunch before we headed back home.
Our trip was over way too soon, but we look forward to working with many of these partners as we continue to promote the use of nonlethal deterrents that allow people and wildlife to coexist.