Since 2010, BHWC has employed a Range Rider who monitors 6 USFS grazing allotments for 7 livestock producers in the Upper Big Hole Valley. Ranchers turn their cows onto these lands July through September of 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 the USDA Wildlife Services, who then investigates the situation to determine if the producer can be reimbursed for their loss.
The goal of the range rider program is to provide a supplemental livestock monitoring program on public land allotments and improve coordination with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Wildlife Services, and livestock producers for wolf/livestock depredation. The rider’s efforts provides earlier detection and management of injured, sick or dead livestock, proactive management of livestock distribution, increased human presence, and early detection or wolf/livestock conflict. Secondary goals of the program are to increase knowledge of wolf activity and to report range issues such as issues with livestock water sources, fences, riparian conditions, and noxious weed infestation (for producers).
While primary predator conflict in the Big Hole Valley stems from wolf presence, the watershed is also home to mountain lions and black bears, and in 2016, an Upper Big Hole Range Rider game camera photographed a grizzly bear crossing a stream, marking the first confirmed instance of a grizzly bear in the watershed in several years, though residents often report sightings. We expect grizzly bears to continue to migrate through and potentially expand into our watershed as their populations grow, because the Big Hole watershed is an ideal migration corridor for large carnivores such as grizzly bears.
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.
Range Rider Resources
People and Carnivores: Ranching with Wolves in the Big Hole Valley – featuring BHWC’s Dean Peterson (video)
People & Organizations Involved
- Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
- People and Carnivores
- Wildlife Conservation Society: Community Partnerships Program
- Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest
- USDA Wildlife Services
- Defenders of Wildlife