Wednesday, May 9, I traveled to Kalispell for the spring meeting of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.
The meeting started with an update from Gary Bertelotti, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 4 Supervisor. He said the grizzlies came out early this spring, and they have already been in 10 conflicts with livestock on the Front, which resulted in the removal of one male bear and the relocation of one female bear from Rockport Colony to the Sun River Game Range.
Bertelotti also reported that the carcass removal program is in full swing in Pondera and Teton Counties, and to date the service had removed 40 sheep, 120 calves, 10 cows and one horse to the Valier landfill. Grizzly Biologist Mike Madel is also redistributing carcasses from various farms and ranches to the Sun River Game Range, Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area and Ear Mountain.
Scott Jackson, National Carnivore Program Leader for the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Region office in Missoula, talked about the NCDE Draft Conservation Strategy updates that have been made to the 2013 draft after receiving and responding to over 2,000 public comments. He said the Strategy was updated chapter by chapter, mostly to reduce redundancy and move different things around to different chapters to make the Strategy easier to read. Since five years have passed since the first draft, the science was also updated to more clearly show the modern statistics of the grizzly bears.
None of the additions or changes really stood out to me until John Waller, wildlife biologist with Glacier National Park, stood up to talk about updates to Chapter Four of the Strategy – Conflict Prevention.
Waller said, “At some point producers are going to have to accept a certain amount of damage.”
Yep. ACCEPT. You can imagine what was going through my head. So, during public comment I addressed the situation. Here’s an excerpt from my “speech.”
When John was talking about revisions for Chapter Four of the Conservation Strategy, he said, ‘At some point producers are going to have to accept a certain amount of damage.’ As soon as I heard that, my blood pressure went through the roof. I don’t have to ACCEPT anything. Livestock producers COPE with damage from deer and elk. We COPE with damage and losses from grizzlies. But we have never, and WILL never, ACCEPT those losses. Would you ACCEPT me taking your paycheck?
People need to realize that our livestock is our livelihood. We don’t do this for fun. I have pointed out to you before that these bears – especially on the Front – would not have a place to live, eat and survive if it weren’t for livestock producers such as myself. That said, I would hope you would realize how ridiculous the idea of us ACCEPTING damage and losses sounds.
Instead, I would expect the strategy to include a stepped up effort from U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to work with ranchers to prevent conflict.”
When the meeting was adjourned, John Waller introduced himself to me and we had a discussion about the word ACCEPT and why it wasn’t the best choice of words in this situation. In the end, he understood where I was coming from and said he would change the sentence to be more suitable.
Here’s the thing – had I not been at that meeting, and had I not spoken up for our industry, that sentence would have been in the NCDE Conservation Strategy forever, and there would be nothing we could do about it. You know how many livestock producers were in that room yesterday? TWO. Nina Baucus and myself.
It is imperative that we show up to defend our way of life. We cannot sit back and do nothing and expect things to change for the better.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee is meeting June 19-21 at the KwaTaqNuk in Polson, Montana. I strongly encourage each and every one of you to attend and represent our beloved agricultural community.