The Big Hole Watershed Committee’s Wildlife Conflict Reduction program was created to help livestock producers and wildlife thrive on a shared landscape. With that in mind, we have developed wildlife programs and initiatives to address wildlife conflict, including livestock carcass removal & composting during calving/lambing, bear-safety training & distribution of bear-resistant garbage cans, and a range rider who patrols summer grazing allotments monitoring for predator activity and livestock condition. We also participate in the landowner-led, regional wildlife conflict reduction group coordinated by the Heart of the Rockies initiative and provide carcass removal to Sage Creek ranchers for the Centennial Valley Association (for which they reimburse us).

Our Wildlife Conflict Reduction program 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 local ranchers & residents who have contributed wood chips, use of heavy equipment, knowledge, donations, and their time and participation.

 


Carcass Removal & Composting

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

 


Upper Big Hole Range Rider

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

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

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

 


Bear Safety & Awareness

The Big Hole Watershed is home to both black bears and the occasional grizzly bear. Grizzlies have been seen, tracked, and photographed recently in the Big Hole watershed, and we expect to see more of them in the future as they migrate through and expand into our watershed as their populations grow. This is because the Big Hole watershed is an ideal migration corridor for large carnivore such as grizzly bears due to its:

  • Proximity to the Greater Yellowstone, Northern Continental Divide, and Bitterroot Ecosystems;
  • High percentage of both public lands and adjoining private lands, most of which are used for agricultural purposes (e.g. cattle ranching, hay production);
  • Abundant wildlife species and excellent wildlife habitat, including sprawling ranches, hay fields, coniferous forests, clean water, wet meadows, and thriving sagebrush ecosystems;
  • Slow rate of development and subdivision; and
  • Low human population.

The Big Hole Watershed Committee (BHWC) is partnering with People and Carnivores (P&C) to prevent conflicts with large carnivores throughout the Big Hole Valley, keeping people and their property safe and large carnivores wild. This is a good time of year to check around your property for anything that may attract a bear or other wildlife: pull down birdfeeders, store garbage inside hard-sided buildings or in a bear-resistant manner; and the same goes for other attractive items such as livestock feed and pet food. Barbeques and other smelly items can also attract bears and should be stored properly. Vulnerable livestock can be protected using electric fences.

BHWC offers free livestock carcass removal to ranchers in the Big Hole Valley (and in the Sage Creek area on behalf of the Centennial Valley Association), removing boneyards and carcasses that may lure carnivores to your property. With grizzly bear populations expanding and recent grizzly bear reports in the Valley, removing carcasses improves the safety of both people and livestock. Ranches interested in participating in the program can contact John Costa, BHWC Wildlife Program Technician, at 209-628-2225 or contact the BHWC for more information.

We also have conflict prevention tool kits available right now for ranchers to check out for free that come with various scare devices and information about ways to prevent conflicts. Tool kits can help protect vulnerable livestock during times of high risk like calving or lambing. Additional tools like electric fencing may also be available.

Bear-resistant garbage canisters are also available to any Big Hole Valley resident in need. These specialized containers can be used to keep bears and other wildlife from accessing garbage as well as livestock feed. Canisters are available on first-come, first-served basis.

 


Landowner-Led Regional Coordination Group

The BHWC participates in the landowner-led, regional coordination group hosted by the Heart of the Rockies Initiative and the Blackfoot Challenge. Along with eleven other groups, BHWC works to find sustainable solutions to help livestock producers and wildlife thrive on a shared landscape. This is accomplished through collaboration and capacity building in regards to nonlethal wildlife conflict reduction (e.g. range rider programs, carcass removal & composting, bear safety, etc.).

 


contact us for more information

 

Big Hole Watershed Committee              

Tana Nulph, Associate Director

(406) 267-3421

tnulph@bhwc.org

 

 

Livestock Carcass Removal

John Costa, Wildlife Program Technician

(209) 628-2225

jcosta@bhwc.org

 


 

Status

In Progress