Monday, January 15, 2018

Keeping Wolves Alive in Montana (Part 1)

Some ranchers in the heart of Montana's wolf country work to coexist with wolves. State and federal agencies even help them. Ranchers and government agencies investing in programs that keep livestock and wolves separate makes me optimistic. But I'm also realistic. These programs aim to prevent livestock loss by keeping wolves away. Do they keep wolves alive in the process? 

This is the first in a series of articles that will look in depth at how wolves fare in some Montana coexistence programs. 

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The latest Gray Wolf Program annual report provides a good overview on some coexistence programs and their funding. The report shows that the Montana Livestock Loss Board distributed $96,113 in six grants during 2016 to help reduce livestock-wolf conflicts. Here’s how that annual report describes the four programs that received the largest grants.

The Blackfoot Challenge

The Blackfoot Challenge in western Montana has been active for more than a decade and is considered a success. That program received and matched a $22,000 grant. This funded a livestock carcass pickup program and range riders to monitor livestock and wolves. Carcasses left in the field or collected in what are called bone piles—as ranchers traditionally have done—attract wolves and grizzlies. Under this program, 501 carcasses—that’s a lot of attractants—were taken to a composting site in one year. The range riders monitored about a dozen livestock herds. Five known wolf packs live in the area along with about 15,000 head of livestock, yet conflicts remain low.

The Big Hole Watershed Committee

The Big Hole Watershed Committee in southwestern Montana received and matched $33,000. This funded a new livestock carcass pickup program (similar to that of the Blackfoot Challenge) and an existing range rider program that monitored eight livestock herds. The program attracted others; five more large ranches asked to be included. Five known wolf packs live in the area along with about 15,000 head of livestock, but conflicts remain low.

The Tom Miner Basin Association

The Tom Miner Basin Association received and matched $16,900. In addition to carcass removal and range riders, the program funded fladry—red ribbons attached to fencing that flap in the wind and frighten wolves. The Tom Miner Basin sits right on the northern border of Yellowstone and has a resident wolf pack and at least twenty grizzlies. Yet no livestock were lost to wolves in 2016 in this successful program.

The Centennial Valley Association

The Centennial Valley Association received and matched $15,560. As with other areas, the money funded a carcass removal program and range riders that covered many ranches in an area west of Yellowstone. Those range riders saw wolves and grizzlies throughout the grazing season, and conflicts did occur. Even with one calf killed, the project is still considered successful because it’s so near predator-heavy Yellowstone.

The Montana Livestock Loss Board

The Montana Livestock Loss Board was created under the state’s Wolf Plan. The Board is independent of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. In addition to funding programs, the Board reimburses for wolf-caused losses to cattle, pigs, horses, mules, sheep, goats, llamas, and guard animals. Confirmed and probable losses are reimbursed at 100% fair market value. During the recent year, the Board paid $59,578 to owners for the loss of sixty-seven head of livestock and one dog.

That’s the four programs—and each is considered a success in preventing livestock loss. But how about wolf loss? The next post in this series will look in more depth the Blackfoot Challenge program.

Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes to protect wildlife and preserve wild lands. His new book, Deep into Yellowstone, is available signed from Rick, or unsigned on Amazon. His best seller, In the Temple of Wolves, is available signed, or unsigned. A signed set of both books is available with free shipping.

To read the 2016 Montana Gray Wolf Program annual report. 

Wolf photo by USFWS


  1. Professional programs to balance the wildlife to the cattle ranching in the wilds of the state. Great Article. Ms Sheryl Skoglund and advocate for the Wild.

  2. This is amazing. At times I feel that nothing is being done to cut down on livestock loss. It's refreshing to see that there are some ranchers willing to co-operate with these programs. Great article Rick.

    1. You do realize that this article is about "Keeping Wolves Alive" not livestock. It is a great article, but I think you missed the point.