Grizzlies make problem neighbors |

Grizzlies make problem neighbors

Rebecca Colnar
for Tri-State Livstock News


• In 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that “The [grizzly bear] population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 today and meets all the criteria for delisting.”

• USFWS biologists determined the grizzly bear currently exceeds the carrying capacity of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and now occupies more than 22,500 square miles.

• Despite the USFWS determinations, a Federal District Court Judge in Montana blocked the Department of the Interior’s rule to delist the grizzly bear.

• On February 15th, the Wyoming State Legislature adopted House Joint Resolution 0001, which requests congressional action to delist the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

• On February 19th, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon signed HJ0001. Statistic: In 2018 alone, grizzly bears killed 66 cattle and 23 sheep. Those figures did not include the 22 probable cattle kills or six probable sheep kills.

U.S. Senator Mike Enzi and Congresswoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., introduced the Grizzly Bear State Management Act, on Feb. 28, which directs the Department of the Interior to re-issue its delisting decision and prohibits further judicial review of this decision.

“It’s clear that under the Endangered Species Act, grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region are fully recovered, that they should be delisted and management returned to the states,” Enzi said in a news release. “I have been working on this issue for over 20 years, and we already knew back then that grizzly bears had already fully recovered. Unfortunately, we have seen environmental groups take advantage of the court system in the face of wildlife management experts and the science presented before us. Our legislation would finally right that wrong by once again delisting the bears and stopping further frivolous and litigation on this issue.”

“The Grizzly Bear State Management Act stops the abuse of the court system by environmental extremists, safeguards the scientifically proven delisting determination and puts management of the grizzly bear back in the hands of Wyoming,” Cheney said. “I’m pleased to reintroduce this bill and continue fighting for the important work done by the state of Wyoming to establish its own effective grizzly bear management plan. The decision by a Federal District Court Judge in Montana to re-list the grizzly ignores science and reinstates one-size fits all federal management. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and with President Trump to fight for Wyoming’s statutory right to manage wildlife,” said Enzi.

Wyoming isn’t the only state dealing with the pesky predator.

Trina Jo Bradley said when she was growing up on Dupuyer Creek in Montana bears were common and they had to travel in pairs with the dog if they wanted to leave the yard.

“There were several times we had to cut a fishing trip or berry picking excursion short because of the grizzlies,” said Bradley, explaining that with bears moving east and onto the plains, bears are now everywhere including on Birch Creek near Valier where she now ranches with her husband. She says it’s not uncommon to see 10-15 bears in the summer. “When we fence on the creek, one of us has to carry the fencing tools while the other carries a shotgun and watches for bears. We have to be especially vigilant during calving, especially night checking. Walking into a dark barn is creepy anyway, but when there’s a possibility that a grizzly could be waiting inside, it gives me heart palpitations.”

Bradley says there is a difference between tolerating wildlife while ranching and accommodating wildlife to the point that ranching isn’t possible. “Our ranch is home to many different species of wildlife, and we are proud that we can provide a habitat for Montana’s animals. On the other hand, we shouldn’t have to tolerate those animals that don’t respect us. The majority of our grizzlies avoid us, avoid our cows, and are rarely seen. Those are the ones we don’t mind sharing our home with.”

The rancher explains that the problem is the bears that hang out in the yard and aren’t scared of the dogs or people, or the ones that prey on cattle, either for food or for fun. “Those are the ones we will not tolerate. Grizzlies need to be removed from the Endangered Species List so control and management can be handled by the state and the people who are on the ground working with ranchers to mitigate conflicts. Until these bears are managed with a firm hand, there is no hope for any of us to be able to live in relative peace with them.”

Steve Skelton runs cattle near Bynum on the Rocky Mountain front—in what’s considered Zone 1 for grizzlies. Because of the proximity to bears and other predators, the Skeltons established Black Bear Guardians, a working guard dog business. “I ranched here for 15 years, before I left for four. We had bears. Did we see bears ever day? No. If you really looked hard for bears you might see one once a week. We leased this place out, were gone four years and came back in the spring of 2017. The bear population had ballooned because the bears are federally protected. It doesn’t matter if the bear is in your livestock killing them all, you can’t kill that bear; it’s a $50,000 fine and five years in jail.”

Skelton not only worries about livestock but about human safety. “I witnessed my daughter going into her horse barn; she walked through the man door and when she cracked the barn door a grizzly bear ran out through the big sliding door,” Skelton said. “We don’t go in the yard after dark anymore because the bears are right there. We had one ewe get out and she was killed by a grizzly less than 250 yards from my door. We have a guest cabin that is 250 yards the other way from our door. That’s really scary.”

Skelton said ranchers need to portray that these apex predators have changed our lives. “These predators not only make it economically harder for us, but they make it hard to find common happiness. Things that were once okay, like going out to pick berries and choke cherries, we can’t do anymore. The kids used to swim in the creek and they can’t do that anymore.”

“What really galls ranchers – and myself – is when the government introduces these apex predators and then they strip away your constitutional rights. You cannot protect your property and you cannot protect yourself,” Skelton added.

The frustrated rancher said there must be legislation where the bear will be delisted and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks can manage them, much like they do the gray wolf that was delisted in Montana in 2011, allowing for more state control.

(At the time of publication SJ 6, introduced by Sen. Mike Cuff, R-Eureka, which would turn management of grizzly bears back to the state of Montana, had passed the Montana Senate and was in the House Fish, Wildlife & Parks Committee.)

Cyndi Johnson doesn’t own livestock but she and her husband, Ken, are wheat farmers outside of Conrad. Johnson is bothered by the fact that the federal government controls the management of this bear although the original intent of the ESA was to include state and local governments as well as farmers and ranchers in the decision making.

“The first human-bear interaction in my county which caused significant concern was the weekend more than two years ago when a sow grizzly was teaching her two yearling cubs to hunt. They killed 75 ewes, rams, and lambs in two nights “hunting” and they didn’t eat a single one,” Johnson explained, adding that last June their 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.

“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. I have full grain bins, and that concerns me,” Johnson said. “Grizzly bears have been within a few miles of me. 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 as they will wander hundreds of miles back to the scene of the crime.”

Johnson is pleased to see Endangered Species Act reform is finally being discussed in Washington. D.C. and cites some commonsense regarding the move to delist gray wolves, that have more than reached their target population, nationwide.

“We need to re-evaluate the original ESA and turn back the rules that get in the way of a community’s ability to address the problems we have with bears,” Johnson said “The ESA contains unfunded mandates of which local and state communities bear the cost. It says actions designed to protect a species take precedence over infrastructure and development. For example, in order to repair a road, special barriers must be erected, by construction companies to prevent bears and other wildlife from entering construction zones with the ultimate design including an avenue for wildlife to cross or fences with dirt fill on both sides so critters don’t have to jump or crawl under. 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.”

Johnson adds the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks needs to provide resources to encourage better livestock safety, animal feed storage and grain storage in remote areas if farmers and ranchers are to continue having this increase and mobility in the bear population.