The return of the gray wolf to the Northern Rockies is one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time. But as wolves expand their range, ranchers and rural community members have been faced with new challenges of living with wolves and other predators on the landscape.
Over the last decade, Keystone has worked with ranching community members, agencies, and citizens, to find proactive solutions such as Range Riders to decrease wolf-livestock conflicts and create and maintain habitat for predators and other wildlife.
Through our Range Rider projects over the years, we have learned that for riders to be effective at deterring predator conflicts, livestock needs to be moved away from known wolf presence and herded or bunched. Herding cattle is not typically done, particularly on summer grazing range, and yet it is a key predator deterrence strategy.
Traditionally, livestock producers turn cattle out onto public lands each summer, returning four months later to collect them and with little to no management during that time. This approach – continuous or unmanaged grazing – reduces habitat for predators and other wildlife, encourages predation, degrades rangelands, negatively impacts riparian areas, and decreases biodiversity.
Rodearing, involves a set of Range Riders keeping cattle bunched and moving.
There are a few livestock management approaches that utilize the key elements of herding and moving cattle. Holistic Management, or Holistic Planned Grazing, championed by Allan Savory and others is one such method. This approach seeks to have cattle intensively graze an area, then move off that area to let it rest. Not allowing the cattle to return to previously grazed areas makes the grass plants healthy and actually restores areas that have been over-grazed in the past. There are numerous other benefits to this approach such as weed control and stream bank restoration.
This method is not only good for range health but also represents the most promising tool for preventing predator conflicts. Herding or bunching cows replicates the natural protective behaviors of ungulates and discourages attacks. Bunching can be done with the use of range riders and herding dogs; other tools including fladry (flagged fencing) are used.
Fladry (flagged fencing), used after the “rodear” while cattle are resting and grazing, limit their movement and helping protect them from predators.
Keystone is committed to helping producers who are using these conservation-focused ranching methods. In the summer of 2012, Keystone partnered with Garl Germann, livestock manager of Germann Ranch, Inc., in Southwest Montana, to test and refine application of holistic range methods on Germann’s 18,000-acre grazing allotment on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
The project has several objectives: predator deterrence, weed reduction, riparian area restoration, range health and biodiversity increase, water quality enhancement, and livestock performance (profitability). A key element of this approach, called “rodearing,” is a range rider keeping cattle bunched and moving, with the help of herding dogs. Fladry (flagged fencing) is used after the rodear while cattle are resting and grazing but to limit their movement and protect them from predators.
Over the years riparian areas have become eroded and destroyed. HRM helps restore these areas and allows regrowth to occur on cutbanks.
Holistic Range Management has long been practiced in other parts of the world and has taken hold in the American Southwest to restore brittle rangelands. Through the Keystone-Germann project, we are just now beginning to establish it in the Northern Rockies where we have the full suite of large carnivores.
The project is designed to act as a model for other producers in the Northern Rockies, and Keystone is hopeful these holistic ranching elements will take hold in this region to create healthier rangelands, increase wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and reduce predator conflicts – as well as human-human conflicts about predators!
Check out the project’s Facebook page
In the Press: Bozeman Daily Chronicle Article, August 12, 2012