In response to public concern regarding wildlife issues in the Big Hole watershed, the Big Hole Watershed Committee formed a wildlife subcommittee in November 2008 to discuss wildlife management issues. The group is led by ranchers and invites solutions from all sides of wildlife issues. The wildlife subcommittee is led by Jim Hagenbarth, Co-Chair of the Big Hole Watershed Committee and rancher. An initiative of the wildlife subcommittee focuses on solutions to reduce conflict between predators and ranchers and is led by Dean Peterson, board member of the Big Hole Watershed Committee and rancher. Tana Nulph, BHWC Conservation Programs Coordinator, manages the committee’s wildlife programs and grants.

BHWC has several wildlife conflict reduction programs in place; read about them below:


Beginning with exchanges with landowner-led groups on reducing conflicts between people and wildlife, eleven groups are now working to build our individual capacity to reduce conflict by collecting our local actions. We are applying together to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to this work across 12 million acres, but will be applying individually to funding sources like the Montana Livestock Board Loss Prevention Grant program.  Our goal is to support individual, local efforts between the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystems.

Participating groups as of August 21, 2017

  • Big Hole Watershed Committee
  • Blackfoot Challenge
  • Centennial Valley Association
  • Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
  • Granite Headwaters
  • Madison Valley Ranchlands Group
  • Missouri Headwaters Partnership – collective agent
  • Ruby Watershed Council
  • Swan Valley Connections – Swan Valley Bear Resources
  • Watershed Restoration Coalition
  • Wildlife Conservation Society – local partner

Upper Big Hole Range Rider Program

BHWC employs a Range Rider who monitors 8 USFS and BLM grazing allotments in the Upper Big Hole basin. Ranchers turn their cows onto these lands July – September each year. The range rider monitors the allotments (using day & night patrols, photo monitoring, foot, horse and vehicle patrols) for predator activity, cattle behavior, and range health during this time period. The rider reports any predator activity to the livestock producer who can then adjust cattle accordingly. If livestock predation is suspected, the rider reports to both the livestock producer and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wolf biologists who then investigate the situation to determine if the producer can be reimbursed for their loss.

Middle Big Hole Range Rider Program (Developing)

In 2016, BHWC secured funding for the development of a Middle Range Rider Program to serve the area between Wisdom and Wise River. Program development is in progress. Please contact Tana Nulph (contact information at bottom of page) if you have any questions or are interested in enrolling your grazing allotments. Eligible allotments include: Pintler Creek, Mudd Creek, Fish Trap, Toomey Creek, Calvert Hill, and Seymore. Private lands may also be enrolled.


BHWC provides carcass removal to local ranches during the spring during calving season, which occurs March-May in the Big Hole Valley. Predators are especially attracted to carcasses during this time as mortality is an unfortunate but expected part of calving.

BHWC’s Wildlife Programs Technician, John Costa, drives a USFWS dump truck to local ranches and removed carcasses, which he then transports to the new Upper Big Hole Livestock Carcass Compost Facility. All information regarding livestock and ranching operations is kept confidential.

Participation in and support of our carcass removal program far exceeded expectations this year, proving that the service is valuable to both livestock producers and wildlife proponents. We will offer carcass removal again spring 2018, if funding is available.

BHWC’s Carcass Removal service was first implemented in 2015, when Kim removed 28 carcasses from 5 local ranches free-of-charge during spring calving. In 2015, carcasses were hauled to the Beaverhead County Landfill in Dillon. We were unable to provide carcass removal in 2016 due to a delay in funding.


Our Upper Big Hole Livestock Carcass Compost Facility opened March 2017. The site is on land leased from Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) neighboring their Wisdom Maintenance Shop. BHWC’s Wildlife Programs Technician, John Costa, manages the compost site. Carcasses are transported to the compost site via our carcass removal program; scheduled drop-offs will be available through the summer. Please contact John to arrange for carcass disposal – his contact information is listed below.

Removing and composting carcasses reduces predator attractant to prevent livestock-wildlife conflict and help manage predator populations by limiting their food supply. Carcass compost facilities have proven to be effective tools in the disposal of livestock carcasses and the prevention of livestock-wildlife conflict in Montana.

 All information regarding livestock and ranching operations is kept confidential.

BHWC’s carcass management programs are a collaborative effort with many contributors, including the USFWS-Red Rock Lakes NWR, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Wildlife Conservation Society – Community Partnerships Program, USFWS-Montana Partners for Fish and Wildlife, People and Carnivores, Cinnabar Foundation, Montana Livestock Loss Board, and many local ranchers who have contributed wood chips, use of heavy equipment, knowledge, donations, and support.


Contact us for more information or get in touch with John Costa at 209-628-2225 or jcosta@bhwc.org to make arrangements for carcass removal. 

Centennial Valley Carcass Removal

This spring, the Big Hole Watershed Committee partnered with the Centennial Valley Association to provide livestock carcass removal free-of-charge to Sage Creek ranchers.  Carcasses are hauled to the Beaverhead County Landfill.  Removing carcasses from ranches during calving season – which is a high mortality period for the ranching industry – removes predator attractant, controls predator populations, and makes predators work for their lunch rather than feeding on livestock.  Carcass removal may also prevent livestock-predator conflict.  The carcass removal dump truck is on loan from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service – Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

Carcass Management RESOURCES & Press

Washington Post: With their population expanding, can Yellowstone grizzlies co-exist with humans? (video)

Washington Post: The Grizzlies Are Coming

MT Public Radio: To Keep Predators Away, Montana Ranchers Compost Dead Cattle

Carcass Composting Fact Sheet (PDF)

Carcass Disposal Option: Composting

“Should You Consider Carcass Composting?” by Cora Helm