In response to public concern regarding wildlife issues in the Big Hole watershed, BHWC 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, BHWC Vice Chairman and rancher and Dean Peterson, BHWC board member and rancher. Tana Nulph, Conservation Programs Coordinator, manages BHWC’s wildlife programs and grants.

Video: Ranching with Wolves in the Big Hole Valley (featuring local rancher & BHWC Board Member Dean Peterson)

BHWC’s conflict reduction initiative is a collaborative effort with many partners and contributors, including People and Carnivores, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, WCS Community Partnerships Program, Defenders of Wildlife, USFWS-Montana Partners for Fish and Wildlife, USFWS-Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, the Montana Livestock Loss Board, the Cinnabar Foundation, the Vital Ground Foundation, and many local ranchers who have contributed wood chips, use of heavy equipment, knowledge, donations, and support.


Regional CONFLICT REDUCTION GROUP secures nfwf funding

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. Together, we successfully secured a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to do 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 Fall 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

Conflict Reduction Programs

Upper Big Hole Range Rider

Since 2011, BHWC has employed a Range Rider who monitors 7 grazing allotments (6 USFS and 1 BLM) for 8 livestock producers 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 depredation 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.

Montana Standard: Big Hole range rider tracks wolves toward middle ground

Middle Big Hole Range Rider (Developing)

BHWC is investigating the possibility of starting a second range rider program, pending producer interest. 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.


Predators are especially attracted to carcasses during spring calving (March-May in the Big Hole Valley), because mortality rates are higher during calving. That’s why BHWC offers free carcass removal to local ranches each spring. Our Wildlife Programs Technician, Johnathan Costa, picks up carcasses with a dump truck on loan from the USFWS and takes them our our new compost site next to the Wisdom MDT Maintenance Shop. All information regarding livestock and ranching operations is kept confidential.

Carcasses Removed to-date

2015 – 28 carcasses from 5 ranches.

2016 – Service not offered due to lack of funding.

2017 – 46 carcasses removed from 7 ranches.

2018 – 46 carcasses removed

carcass composting

The Upper Big Hole Livestock Carcass Compost Facility opened March 2017 next to the Montana Department of Transportation’s (MDT) Wisdom Maintenance Shop. Carcasses  picked up in the Big Hole Valley during spring calving are taken to the compost site (prior to its construction they were taken to the Beaverhead County Landfill). Scheduled carcass drop-offs may be available through the summer; contact John via cell phone to make arrangements. 

Sage Creek Carcass Removal

BHWC partnered with the Centennial Valley Association (CVA) during spring 2017 and spring 2018 to provide livestock carcass removal free-of-charge to ranchers who calve in Sage Creek.  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.

Conflict reduction RESOURCES

People and Carnivores: Ranching with Wolves in the Big Hole Valley – featuring BHWC’s Dean Peterson (video)

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

Contact information

To learn more about these programs, contact:

Tana Nulph

Conservation Programs Coordinator

Big Hole Watershed Committee

(406) 267-3421 or tnulph@bhwc.org

To make arrangements for carcass removal (spring) or drop-off at compost site (summer), contact:

Johnathan Costa

Wildlife Programs Technician

Big Hole Watershed Committee

(209) 628-2225 or jcosta@bhwc.org

Carcass removal & composting services are not currently offered in the fall/winter.