Bears pose threat to more than livestock
for Tri-State Livestock News
Grizzly bears have become an every-day occurrence for some Montana ranchers and farmers. Greg Shock, owner of Shocks Mission View Dairy near Ronan, Mont., said he has seen up to seven mature grizzlies in his corn field at one time. With only 125 acres of corn, they are doing substantial damage. “My crops are just as important as the neighbors’ livestock, well at least to me they are,” said Schock, who grows his own corn for silage for his dairy cows and estimated bears cost him at least a 15 or 20 percent loss every year. Bears eat the kernels, and it takes lots of corn kernels to fill up a mature bear. he said, “They are here in full force.” As they move through the field they knock the corn down, leading to a less efficient harvest. “They moved in three weeks ago and will stay there until we are down to chopping they last ten acres, then they will head for the woods.” The bears are slowly becoming more familiar with house and sheds. A sow and her three two-year-old cubs were about 50 yards away from Shock’s house recently.
Shock was quick to say, “I don’t want the bears gone. I would never shoot one unless it was threatening my family.” There is simply no compensation available for him and his family when bears destroy their corn crop and field. The Department of Livestock provides funding if animals are killed, which happened to Shock only once in the last 15 years but there in no funding for crop damage. Years ago, bears killed an old cow, who had just finished calving. She was weak, Shock said, and explained, “The Department of Livestock worked with us on compensation for that cow.”
Feed losses are expensive. “The dairy business the last few years has been brutal. Feed costs have increased, grain has gone up, including corn. Yes, now it has leveled out a little but when I lose 15 or 20 percent of my crop that is a hard financial loss to take,” Shock said. The bears bed down in the field in big holes they dig, up to three feet deep. When he flies over his field, Shock said it’s easy to count how many bear have been living there, simply by counting the holes. The mature adult holes are much bigger and then if they have cubs there will be smaller holes surrounding them, he explained. “Hitting those holes does some damage on my equipment,” he added.
While 20 years ago he would have never seen a bear, now it is a common occurrence. Shock is using a wait and see approach until it become a threat for his cattle or his family but some financial compensation would help his situation.
Mark DeBoo, an Angus breeder from Valier, Mont., is using the tolerance approach as well. If they aren’t bothered or with cubs they don’t seem to be a threat to him or his cattle. “Bears are definately a concern for me, I’m more concerned about wolves but bears are on my property with my cattle,” commented Deboo, who has had cattle “go missing” and has found dead cattle that were previously healthy. “It’s hard to prove they were killed by bears. Unless you see the bear there, there is not proof or evidence left,” according to Mark.
Deboo, who calves in May and early June saw something alarming one morning when he was out checking the cows and calves. He was walking away from the pickup and started to hear some noises in the distance. Looking up he saw a sow and two cubs running directly at him, a fence away from the cattle. “It startled me, so I hollered at her. She stood up, looked at me, turned around and left just as fast as she had come,” he said.
In 2011 Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks stated that there were over 900 grizzly bears in the state of Montana. Grizzly bears in Montana are still on the endangered list which mean there is no hunting allowed. In May of 2013 there was an organized effort to remove grizzlies from that list due to the increased population. Removal from the endangered list could mean a possible hunting season to control the growing population of grizzlies who are now moving down to coexist with Montana ranchers and farmers.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Oct. 23, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News