One of the long-term visions of the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance (RVSA) is to maintain working ranchlands and ensure connected, viable grizzly bear populations. These goals are related— grizzly bears depend on the wide-open working lands of southwest Montana to connect with other grizzly populations, and working ranchlands depend on public lands for grazing.
We recognize that having grizzly bears on the landscape is a shared social value of ecological importance, but one which imparts outsized costs on local private landowners and requires creative solutions collaboratively developed. Over the course of a year, the RVSA met monthly to discuss the challenges faced by landowners and the conservation values at stake and developed a set of recommendations for the Montana Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council. Here is a look at our recommendations for addressing this critical issue.
Connectivity between ecosystems
The RVSA members agree that keeping working lands intact and protecting secure habitat on public lands is a key aspect of long-term goals for grizzly bear habitat connectivity. We also believe that conflict prevention and timely, reliable conflict response are important to managing for grizzly bear connectivity. We recommend increasing agency staff capacity for responding to conflict, and monitoring grizzly populations both within and outside of the Demographic Monitoring Areas (DMAs). The DMA is the boundary within which all demographic criteria for the Yellowstone grizzly bear population are currently monitored and evaluated.
There is a substantial need for increased, long-term funding to support conflict prevention programs and tools. New revenue sources must tap into a broader constituency than just sportsmen and agricultural producers. The impacts of grizzly bear recovery and expansion are not equitably shared, and all citizens can share financial ownership of this conservation success.
Confirmed livestock losses to grizzly bears in our region are increasing, and members of the RVSA report substantial increases in the number of unconfirmed losses as well. We see an opportunity for our alliance to work more effectively with the U.S. Forest Service to mitigate conflict risk on public land grazing allotments. Cooperative range management decision-making among the Forest Service and permittees could prevent conflicts by avoiding areas with high risk of conflict or adjusting range management to avoid conflicts. Flexible decision-making and adaptive allotment management could include adjustments in periods of use across different pastures depending on potential for conflict.
The RVSA also supports additional capacity for Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) to educate hunters about safety in bear country, especially among non-residents.
Response protocols to grizzly conflict in different parts of the state
Our alliance believes there is substantial need for more clarity, certainty, and definition surrounding grizzly conflict response protocol. It would be valuable for the relevant state and federal agencies to work together in establishing clarity around conflict management and agree on allowable take numbers outside of the Demographic Monitoring Areas. Individual bears that are identified as chronic depredators should be removed promptly to reduce conflicts and support social tolerance. Grizzly bear conflict response protocol should consider specific demographics when looking at occupancy and movements in these intervening lands between ecosystem recovery areas.
Resources for long-term sustainability of grizzly bear conservation
Current resources for grizzly bear conservation and management are inadequate and there is substantial opportunity for tapping into a broader population interested in grizzly bear conservation. Potential funding mechanisms include a tourist tax in gateway communities, increased general funding appropriations, a conservation fee associated with National Parks (i.e. in alignment with Wyoming state legislative resolution), or funding received through Recovering Americas Wildlife Act. There is also a need for federal funding for grizzly bears post-delisting.
We recommend new funding sources prioritize adding agency personnel on the ground to manage bear conflicts with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Wildlife Services (WS). Additional agency capacity and funding for conflict management could improve response time and create new opportunities for creative techniques in preventing conflicts. These improvements may support maintaining and increasing grizzly bear tolerance by livestock producers in our area.
There is also a need to fully fund the Montana Livestock Loss Board, to equitably compensate livestock producers for losses and fund non-lethal tools. Livestock loss compensation is an opportunity to maintain the economic viability of ranching operations in grizzly country. Our alliance is in support of a tiered livestock loss compensation multiplier that simultaneously incentivizes preventive techniques. This multiplier should be grounded in experimental design research that accurately assigns cause-specific losses.
Take a look at our full letter to the Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council here:
If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about our recommendations. The Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance will continue to work towards long-term, sustainable solutions for wildlife conflict management in the Ruby Valley.