Increasing wolf, grizzly bear populations present challenges for ranchers, hunters

Rebecca Colnar
for Tri-State Livestock News
The Montana Livestock Loss Board posted on its Facebook page this week that “predation from wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions is at an extreme high volume. Photo courtesy Getty Images
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Ag Pays When Bears Stay

If you think grizzly bears just like the high country, think again. Wheat farmer Cyndi Johnson explains that as bear numbers increase, the bruins are making their way to flatter ground.

“It’s not exactly prime grizzly bear habitat but someone forgot to tell the bears,” Johnson said

Johnson said the first human-bear interaction in Pondera County, Montana, was two years ago when a sow grizzly was teaching her two yearling cubs to hunt. “She taught them that my best friend’s sheep ranch was the place to hunt. They killed 75 ewes, rams and lambs in two nights” and didn’t eat a single one. Early in June this year, my local golf course had to close for a day in order to ‘manage’ a grizzly that wandered into town, putting human and bear life both in danger. My goat-raising neighbor is being required, at her own expense, to add tall electric fencing to prevent bears from eating her goats and their food.”

She adds that as long as the bears have food in the mountains, they seem to stay, but when they start preparing for hibernation, they have been coming down to the prairie. “Just a couple of weeks ago somone’s bum lamb that they had in their yard was eaten. Another neighbor seven miles out of Conrad had grizzly bears in her yard.”

Bears have been spotted as far as 300 miles from the Front in Central Montana – tipping over bee hives and ripping doors off of full grain bins.

“Grizzly bears have been within a few miles of me. The standard response to these problem bears is usually relocation, if the bear survives the encounter. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always result in a bear who stays put in his new home; they wander hundreds of miles back to the scene of the crime.”

Still, unlike Wyoming, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has chosen not to hold a grizzly hunt this fall despite increases in human-bear interaction on the prairie.

Hunting season can’t come quickly enough for some ranchers and farmers whose livestock have had meetings with sharp-toothed adversaries this summer. Wolves, grizzly bears and even mountain lions sometimes find calves, lambs, sheep and horses worthy of their attention, often with devastating consequences, perhaps worse this year than in the past.

Some wildlife groups called on the Wyoming Game and Fish to amend its fall grizzly hunt to exclude the Demographic Monitoring Area — the core of the Yellowstone ecosystem habitat where grizzlies are counted annually to ensure the species persists there after a 2017 female death was recently confirmed, said Angus M. Thuermer Jr., a writer for Wyofile.

Wildlife groups said this year’s discovery of four grizzly bears that died in 2017 — including at least one critical breeding-age female — meant the numbers had exceeded a threshold and should stop hunting in the DMA this fall.

But state Game and Fish Department director Scott Talbott wrote last month that collaborators had expected news about additional deaths so the numbers were not surprising. The long-term survival of the grizzly bear is not in question, he wrote.

According to Wyofile, “The debate centers on the 19,270-square-mile Demographic Monitoring Area in and around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks. One female and up to nine male bears could be killed there under Wyoming’s regulations. No hunting is planned in the parks.

“Wyoming also authorized a hunt of grizzly bears outside the DMA where as many as a dozen additional bears could be killed. The six groups, including Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Wyoming Untrapped, WildEarth Guardians and Wyoming Wildlife Advocates recently were protesting only the core-area hunt,” the Wyofile story reported.

The Montana Livestock Loss Board posted on its Facebook page recently that “predation from wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions is at an extreme high volume.

“Their (U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services’) specialists are backed up two to four investigations deep and it is increasing daily. Please be patient with them, leave messages and do what you can to protect the evidence of the kill such as placing a tarp over it. Take pictures of the animal including bite marks up close and further back so they can see the location. Also if you see tracks take pictures of them and if possible lay a tape measure across the length and width of the tracks with pictures to help the specialist know their size,” the post said.


Jim Allen of Allen’s Diamond Four Ranch has been outfitting since 1973. He also raises cattle. The home ranch is close to Lander, Wyo., while the mountain ranch is in the Shoshone National Forest on the southeast side of the Wind River Mountain Range at an impressive 9,200 feet. The family runs their cattle and horses in the summer on a U.S. Forest Service lease.

Allen said the increase in the population of wolves and grizzly bears has had a major effect on the ungulates (elk, moose, antelope), which are moving out of the mountains to head to safer ground further east.

“I’ve been outfitting since 1973, and have seen the population of grizzly bears expand beyond their carrying capacity,” said Allen, a Wyoming legislator. “What I find especially concerning is that the expansion of grizzly bears is now a safety concern in areas that it wasn’t before. The Wind River Mountain Range has 1,000 lakes. I’ve always heard these mountains were family friendly with families backpacking to the lakes with their children. There were never grizzly bears to worry about, but now there are and it’s just not safe for those families. That is just wrong.”

He adds that the grizzlies have expanded their range beyond the formerly agreed to recovery area. “I really feel for the ranchers in the Green River Grazing Association because their livestock is really getting hit hard. Even if there is a problem bear, they just move it elsewhere. The density is far greater than the areas can handle. I see that as the plan from the beginning of the federal agencies and the environmental groups. They want more grizzlies in more areas so they can expand their reign of terror on livestock.”

Wolves are another problem having expanded their territory since being “introduced” and having a devastating impact on wildlife and livestock. “Our ranch is only four miles from Lander. We now have elk on our ranch in our hayfield because they are hiding from the wolves. We have never had elk on our hayfields before the wolf re-introduction. They make the elk very jittery and raise the stress levels so the mother elk abort.”

Allen said that being an outfitter, it’s difficult to guide hunts now because the elk have become unpredictable. “Outfitters in Dubois, Wyo., have had a hard time because of the wolves. “What happens is you have a productive elk camp and suddenly the wolves come along and after a decade there are no elk left so you can’t sell a hunt. In my situation, I can’t sell a hunt in my corn field.”


Hunting wolves is difficult because of their elusive nature. “You shoot at a wolf and they all disappear,” the rancher said.

Because of the wolves and grizzlies, Allen said the Forest Service has ramped up the rules and regulations. “There is added work and added costs outfitters and ranchers have incurred because of the ever-expanding, onerous regulations, now because of the grizzly becoming de-listed. The rangers feel they can come into our private camps and go through our tents and equipment. Of course, you have to sign a paper that they can do that because if you don’t you can’t operate. I say it’s breaking the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution regarding unlawful searches and seizures.”

Allen believes the quota for killing the predators is way too low. “The government is too cautious. We’re losing a lot of ungulates to the predators.”

Tim Bowers, long-time owner of Bear Paw Outfitters in Livingston, Mont., offered horseback rides, pack trips and hunting trips. Bear Paw Outfitters are under permit to operate in Yellowstone National Park and in the Yellowstone Ranger District — Gallatin National Forest adjacent to and in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, which makes for stunning scenery — but also possible encounters with predators.

“There are definitely precautions one must take when camping in predator country,” Bower said. “Putting an electric fence around your camp works well. It’s important to have a a clean camp. Wipe everything down when you’re done cooking, use bleach water to wash dishes and put gray water away from camp. Don’t take any food into your tent.”

Hang food and other items with strong odors (such as bug repellent and soap) out of reach of bears. Hang items at least 10 feet above the ground and if no trees are available, store your food in airtight or bear-proof containers.

The veteran outfitters said they don’t conduct any wolf hunts because of the nature of the predator. “Certainly wolves have made a big impact on the other animals. But unless you have access even to special areas to hunt them, keep in mind they are not vulnerable animals. Once they get shot at, you won’t get one. Even if you can shoot at five you won’t get them.”

USDA Wildlife Services Contact information: The Western District Supervisor is Kraig Glazier, (406) 439-5943 and the Eastern District Supervisor is Dalin Tidwell, (406) 200-2180. If you can’t reach your local specialist, call the supervisors or their main office in Billings, Mont., (406) 657-6464. ❖