The Upper Big Hole carcass compost facility was opened spring 2017 and is a cooperative effort by a number of partners. The project is managed by BHWC and was put in place to provide an effective, efficient means of livestock disposal for local ranchers. Mortality is an unfortunate but normal part of ranching, and historically carcasses have been thrown in pits, buried, hauled to the dump, or even blown up as methods of disposal. The presence of carcasses on ranches can attract predators, including wolves, bears, and mountain lions, which are often dealt with lethally once they develop the problem behavior of feeding on carcasses or predating on livestock. Carcass composting provides an alternative that is acceptable to wildlife, water quality, and people.

Our compost site is managed by our Wildlife Programs Technician, John Costa. John drives the carcass removal dump (on loan from the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.) truck during the spring carcass removal service (which coincides with calving season) and transports carcasses to the compost site where he covers them with wood chips, adds water, and waits for the “magic” to happen! Within a few month, carcasses break down into small amounts of compost. The process is easy, efficient, and not nearly as smelly as you would think! In fact, employees at the neighboring MDT site state that they rarely smell the carcasses, and when they do (when it’s windy) they get a faint whiff at worst – nothing overpowering.

About BHWC’s Wildlife Subcommittee: 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 subcommittee is led by Jim Hagenbarth and Dean Peterson, Big Hole Valley ranchers. The wildlife subcommittee invites solutions from all sides of wildlife issues. The primary objective of the wildlife subcommittee is to provide wildlife conflict reduction to help both ranchers and wildlife thrive in a predator-rich environment. BHWC’s wildlife 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 more.


Carcass Composting Resources

Big Hole Breezes: Big Hole Watershed Offers Carcass Removal

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

Carcass Disposal Option: Composting

“Should You Consider Carcass Composting?” by Cora Helm