DARBY – A single lightning bolt killed 45 cattle on a Darby-area ranch last week.
The cows, calves and a prize bull were crowded together under some small crabapple trees when the lightning struck, said rancher Jean Taylor.
The incident happened Monday, July 14.
“It was exactly at 10:28 p.m.,” Taylor said. “The clap of thunder woke me up. Some friends told me they felt the shock in their house.”
The Taylors live south of Tin Cup Road.
The family had spent years building their herd of Black Angus cattle.
“They were beautiful cattle,” she said. “It killed cows and their calves and a bull that we had just bought last spring. It’s very sad.”
Local ranchers helped the family dispose of the dead animals.
No one had ever heard of so many cattle being killed by lightning l”
by LAURA LUNDQUIST, Chronicle Staff Writer The Bozeman Daily Chronicle | 0 Comments
BILLINGS – The group charged with exploring the possibility of a free-roaming bison herd in Montana has hard work ahead, according to many eastern Montana ranchers attending a Fish, Wildlife & Parks meeting.
“This is a pipe dream of somebody’s,” said Greg Oxarart of the South Phillips County Grazing District. “You as a panel — do you want bison in your backyard? Not many people do. I hope you take that into consideration. You have a tough job ahead of you.”
FWP Director Jeff Hagener created the group to brainstorm where and how a free-roaming bison herd could be created in Montana.
Several of the 50 people in the audience carried signs stating “No free-roaming bison” and wore buttons bearing red X’s over a bison. Most were from Phillips and Valley counties, which contain the C.M. Russell Wildlife Refuge and the American Prairie Reserve.
Some had attended the first meeting of the discussion group in Lewistown in September. That meeting produced a list of guiding principles for any future plan, including respecting private property rights and managing bison as “wildlife” through a FWP management plan.
The group was scheduled to have its second meeting in Lewistown in April. But after receiving a number of heated emails and phone calls, Hagener canceled the Lewistown meeting at the last minute.
Some people were concerned by a series of events involving Yellowstone bison, including a court ruling that bison in quarantine remain wildlife, but a main complaint was that no time had been scheduled during the meeting for public comment.
On Monday, Hagener said no comment had been scheduled because the informal group was created for discussion and would not make any decisions. He also emphasized that the group had nothing to do with the management of Yellowstone bison.
“We are allowing public comment because a lot of the members of the group thought it was appropriate to have that,’” Hagener said. “Hopefully, we’ll come to a result that’s gone through a process with a lot of public opportunity, and we’ve allowed the public to be involved all the way along.”
Facilitator Ginny Tribe opened the public comment session with the reminder that any resulting plan would have a “no action” alternative where the state would not create a free-roaming herd.
“This group has already agreed on some of these principles so keep that in mind when you make your comments,” Tribe said.
Even so, comment ranged from vehement opposition to any bison to a proposal of the exact location on the CMR Wildlife Refuge where FWP should put 1,200 bison.
Dyrck Van Hyning displayed maps of the Southerland Bay region along the northern shore of the Fort Peck Reservoir in the CMR Refuge and said the 33,000 acres could house up to 1,200 bison, based upon the Bureau of Land Management’s grazing guide of 24 acres per cow.
“There’s no private land. There’s natural boundaries. This would be a good place for a pilot project that could start small,” Van Hyning said.
A Department of the Interior report on U.S. bison herds, released a few weeks ago, named the CMR Refuge as a good site for the transplant of bison but categorized future management as highly complex because of the resistance from nearby ranchers.
Hagener said the DOI would not move to put bison on the CMR Refuge without coordinating with the state of Montana.
That assurance didn’t assuage Phillips County ranchers, who cited concerns about property and fence damage, competition for grazing resources, the loss of livelihood and brucellosis. Some were worried about losing grazing allotments on the refuge.
Craig French of Phillips County said the meeting might not be about Yellowstone bison but ranchers can’t ignore the Yellowstone situation.
“If it was in my power to do so, I would hold these people responsible and throw them in jail for cruelty to the animals and mismanagement of the land,” French said. “At least we agree that things need to be grazed. We’re arguing over what should graze.”
Jim Posewitz of Helena also argued for the animals but said people have a moral responsibility to recover a species that they almost eliminated in the late 1880s.
“What happened in Montana is shameful. We have become the bone yard of a continent,” Posewitz said. “Will this be the point in Montana history where we become committed to finishing the wildlife restoration legacy?”
Sheep rancher Becky Weed of Belgrade said that bison and Montana cattle ranchers shared one trait that could serve as common ground for resolution: both need natural functioning ecosystems.
“It’s up to this group to try and explain to each other why the bison issue and the long-term cattle ranching issues are really one and the same,” Weed said. “This is a plea to the ranchers and to the environmentalists to understand why we all have a vested interest in seeking some kind of resolution to this.”
Following public comment, the group started problem-solving exercises to develop some recommendations by the end of Tuesday.
In the latest move to curtail wolf hunting across the country, Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio–one of the most vocal, influential, and persistent critics of Western wolf management–called for federal intervention to protect gray wolves that range beyond Yellowstone National Park.
DeFazio claims hunters who harvest wolves outside park boundaries are directly responsible for the recent decline in Yellowstone’s wolf population. To help solve this “problem,” he penned a letter to the Department of the Interior requesting the agency coordinate among states to establish a “wolf safety zone” around Yellowstone National Park. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation responded to DeFazio with a letter of their own.
RMEF described the request for a no-hunting buffer zone “unfounded by any science,” noting that it also “contradicts what the entire wolf reintroduction and ESA listing represent.” The organization goes on to point out scientific studies that account for the decline in wolf numbers in Yellowstone Park.
First, the availability of elk–the primary prey of northern range wolves–has declined significantly. Yellowstone’s northern elk herd has fallen from 17,000 animals in 1995 to roughly 4,000 in 2013. Second, a recent study demonstrated wolves will kill one another when an area’s population becomes too large for the available prey and habitat.
DeFazio has overlooked such evidence, and instead finds fault in state management of wolf numbers.
“…Gray wolves do not respect invisible park boundaries and once the wolves cross out of the park and onto bordering lands,” DeFazio wrote. “…There are myriad inconsistent state regulations that allow hunters to kill wolves on sight; in some instances without limit.”
Both Wyoming and Montana maintain strict management quotas that apply to wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In 2013 Montana limited its combined hunting/trapping sub-quota (unit 316) to four just four wolves near Gardiner. Wyoming biologists indicate its harvest quotas near the park are deliberately small to provide proper management. Additionally, Yellowstone officials support RMEF’s position that hunting wolves outside the park does not contribute to the park’s overall downward trend in wolf numbers.
Finally, RMEF notes gray wolf reintroduction in the Northern Rocky Mountains met minimum recovery goals nearly 15 years ago, and has since exceeded the mutually-agreed upon population by 500 percent. M. David Allen, RMEF president and CEO, concludes his letter: “The continuing drumbeat of individuals and organizations to halt any form of state based management of wolves shows a total disregard for the state based management system, the originally agreed upon [wolf] recovery goals and the 10th Amendment which delegates such matters to the states.”
DeFazio is the ranking Democrat on the House National Resources Committee and has previously opposed the USFWS proposal to lift ESA protections for gray wolves in the lower 48.
MISSOULA — Private landowners may kill up to 100 wolves a year they believe are threatening livestock, dogs or people under a new state law that doesn’t count toward Montana’s wolf-hunting season.
But Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioners opted to monitor those landowner killings in blocks of 25 instead of an earlier plan to allow 50 kills before review. The decision came during the commission’s meeting in Missoula on Thursday.
The landowner quota is separate from the state’s annual wolf hunt. Hunters must have a wolf license and operate during an annual season, while landowners or their agents can kill wolves “that are a potential threat to human safety, livestock or domestic dogs” at any time of year. That option comes from Senate Bill 200, passed in the last Legislature.
Landowners may also kill wolves in the act of attacking livestock without affecting the 100-animal quota.
But they can only use that privilege on private land — not on public-land grazing allotments. And while landowners may allow private hunters to kill threatening wolves on their property under the quota, the landowner (not the hunter) would be responsible for any illegal wolf kill.
So, for example, if a rancher told elk hunters on his land they had his permission to shoot wolves near his cattle, they could do so under the landowner quota without using their hunting licenses. But if a hunter killed a wolf after the quota was exceeded or somewhere that the wolf posed no believable threat, the landowner could be liable for the violation.
On Thursday, the commissioners also set rules for the 2014-15 wolf hunting season, which remained generally the same as last year. The coming rifle season will run from Sept. 15 to March 15, with a bag limit of five wolves per hunter. Two hunting districts near Yellowstone National Park have quotas of three wolves, to protect packs popular with wildlife watchers in the park.
Hunters have no quota on wolves except in those areas close to Yellowstone and Glacier National parks. Last year, hunters killed 128 wolves while trappers took another 97.
Landowners have killed far fewer wolves under previous shoot-on-sight rules for livestock protection. FWP wildlife manager Quentin Kujula said the past several years averaged less than 10.
“Landowners want the opportunity to deal with the situation themselves,” FWP director Jeff Hagener said after the unanimous approval of the quota. “They don’t want to wait for compensation for wolf depredation or for (federal) Wildlife Services to arrive. This way, they don’t have additional costs, and we the taxpayers don’t have additional costs.”
That prompted commissioners Matthew Tourtlotte and Gary Wolfe to amend the landowner rule. The original version required commission review after the first 50 wolves were killed. Tourtlotte and Wolfe proposed making checks in 25-kill blocks.
“I’m really concerned about a perception there’s open season on wolves on private land in Montana,” Wolfe said. “This is to give landowners the ability to address legitimate perceived threats, not to create an open season on private land. It’s easier to become more liberal than try and back off in the future.”
Commission chairman Dan Vermillion said estimates of the state’s wolf population show it has been able to absorb the impact of no-quota hunting seasons. Montana has around 600 wolves.
“I think this is the kind of program that helps foster more tolerance for wolves on the landscape,” Vermillion said.
When wolves were protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, Montanans felt powerless to deal with the predators’ impact, and that fostered intolerance for their presence, he argued.
FERNDALE- Wardens are looking for information that could help them track down whoever killed three young grizzlies in the north end of the Swan Valley.
Agents with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the bears were killed in the Ferndale area.
Because the investigation is ongoing, authorities aren’t giving out more details about exactly where the bears were found or how they were killed.
FWP and USFWS are hoping to hear from anyone that may help them track down the poachers. Anyone with information can contact 1-800-TIP-MONT begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-800-TIP-MONT FREE end_of_the_skype_highlighting . Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward.
Researchers from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the University of Montana estimate the state’s wolf population at more than 800 using a new statistical technique.
Researchers conducted a study of the new technique from 2007 to 2012. The new method, called patch occupancy modeling, uses deer and elk hunter observations coupled with information from radio-collared wolves. The statistical approach is a less expensive alternative to the old method of minimum wolf counts, which were performed by biologists and wildlife technicians. The results of the study estimate that for the five-year period, wolf populations were 25-35 percent higher than the minimum counts for each year.
“The study’s primary objective was to find a less-expensive approach to wolf monitoring that would yield statistically reliable estimates of the number of wolves and packs in Montana,” said Justin Gude, FWP’s chief of research for the wildlife division in Helena.
Counting predators in remote and forested areas is notoriously difficult and expensive. FWP submits a required yearly wolf report to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service based on the exact number of wolves observed through tracking by FWP wolf specialists. Biologists track wolves with on-the-ground and aerial surveys, radio collaring and denning confirmation. The minimum count has hovered around 625 for the last three years.
According to a 2012 article in Population Ecology authored by FWP and university researchers, wolf numbers remained small in the initial stages of recovery in the early 1990s, and tracking the minimum count of wolves in Montana meant only a few packs in isolated areas. In 1995, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, the minimum wolf count in Montana was 66.
With minimum counts now nearly 10 times greater, it’s more difficult to assess the minimum number of wolves. The traditional field methods yield an increasingly conservative count and well below actual population sizes, according to the article.
“It takes a lot of people and time, and the budget has gone down with delisting,” Gude said. “It’s getting more and more difficult to keep up, and we felt like we’re getting farther and farther away with the minimum count.”
In two years, FWP’s requirement to provide a yearly minimum count to the Fish and Wildlife Service expires. That expiration opens the door for state officials to use other means to estimate the state’s wolf population.
The agency plans to do both the required minimum count and the patch occupancy modeling for the next two years. After the expiration, FWP plans to transition to the new techniques and adjust field methods of gathering data accordingly, said Ron Aasheim, FWP administrator.
“Certainly there have been people out there who said we have significantly more wolves than the minimum count,” he said. “If anything, this verifies that was a minimum count and we don’t have exact numbers; we have trend counts but this gets us closer to the actual number. The more information we have the better.”
Using hunter observations during the five-week general hunting season has the immediate benefit of cost savings and accounts for those wolves not verified in the annual counts. The technique is very similar to wolf counting methods used in the upper-Midwest, which has already withstood court challenges, Gude said.
“This new approach is not only good science, it’s a practical way for Montana to obtain a more accurate range of wolf numbers that likely inhabit the state,” he said.
Using the public to count wolves has its drawbacks as biologists consider public sightings less reliable than those of professionals. Given the sample size of around 2 million deer and elk hunter days and 50,000 to 80,000 hunters interviewed in FWP’s annual telephone survey, researchers believe the sample provides a diverse observation of Montana’s hunting districts and provides an accurate picture of wolf occupancy.
Based on the study, FWP and university researchers estimated the areas occupied by wolves in packs using the hunter observations, then the number of wolf packs by dividing the occupied area by average territory size, and finally they multiplied the number of packs by the average pack size to get an estimated population. In 2012, the minimum count for wolves was verified at 625 and 147 packs. The statistical technique estimated 804 wolves in 165 packs inhabit Montana.
The study further estimated that 18, 24 and 25 percent of Montana was occupied by wolves in 2007, 2008 and 2009, respectively.
In addition to wolves living in packs, various studies have documented between 10 and 15 percent of wolves living alone.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation threw its support behind the study with a $25,000 grant.
“The bottom line is you can’t have true effective wolf management if you don’t know how many wolves are really out there and where they live,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “This grant funding will help to better determine that.”
Defenders of Wildlife was still looking at the research and was not ready to comment on the merits of the science, said Erin Edge, Rockies and Plains associate for Defenders.
Wildlife program coordinator for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition Chris Colligan said his organization supports using the best available science, but planned to keep an eye on the use of the new techniques.
“We want to make sure it’s accurate and they’re making sound decisions for management,” he said.
The research has been peer reviewed, but GYC has questions about the accuracy of using hunter observations and the ability of that data to apply on a small scale to create individual quotas for hunting districts, Colligan said.
“Self-reporting of wolves has its downsides,” he said. “There’s concerns about bias in hunters reporting wolves when they’re not present. It also diminishes the need for biologists on the ground, which is a valuable resource.”
Gude cautioned that future statistical approaches need to include wolf harvest locations and how hunting and trapping influence where wolves choose to live.
“Perhaps the best future use of these statistical methods won’t necessarily only be for monitoring and keeping tabs on wolf population numbers, but to better inform the complicated decisions that accompany the public harvest and management of wolves,” he said.
For wild bison, the idyllic images of Montana being splashed across Seattle ads does not match reality, according to guest columnists Bonnie Rice and Glenn Hockett.
THE state of Montana has been spending big bucks in Seattle and other cities across the U.S. to entice people to visit its great state. You’ve probably seen the billboards, bus ads and store banners across town with beautiful, scenic images of Yellowstone National Park and its wildlife. Unfortunately, for one of Montana’s most recognizable animals, wild bison, this idyllic image doesn’t match reality.
Bison have been at the center of controversy this spring as they leave Yellowstone National Park in search of grass and calving grounds in Montana adjacent to the park. Instead of being allowed to roam outside the park year-round like other wildlife, bison are hazed back into the park, or captured and shipped to slaughter. Hundreds of bison were killed this year.
This policy stems from a disease called brucellosis, which can cause infected pregnant animals to miscarry. Cattle introduced brucellosis into the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem about a century ago, and some wild bison and elk still carry it. The livestock industry is concerned about wild bison transmitting the disease back to livestock. Such a transmission has never been documented, but the potential, although incredibly small, exists.
Over the last decade, several changes have opened the door for better management of wild bison in Montana. With retired grazing allotments and fewer cows on the landscape, there are tens of thousands of acres of public land where there are no potential conflicts with cattle, ever. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also made sweeping changes to brucellosis regulations a few years ago, and they are now more reasonable and livestock-producer-friendly.
It’s clear that the old ways of bison management need to be updated. Working together, a broad set of conservationists, wildlife experts, ranchers, hunters and interested citizens came to consensus in support of significantly expanding year-round habitat for bison in Montana. Last summer, the state issued a formal proposal based on that recommendation. Ninety-nine percent of the more than 100,000 public comments on the proposal supported increased year-round habitat.
But in late May, the Montana Board of Livestock voted to indefinitely delay any decision on year-round habitat for Yellowstone bison, even though the Department of Livestock was a co-lead in formulating the state’s proposal. It’s now up to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, and it’s unclear how he will proceed.
Science, economics, public opinion and common sense make clear that opening up significant year-round bison habitat in areas without livestock conflicts is the logical path forward. Doing so would give the state more management options and flexibility. More fair-chase hunting opportunities would be created. Fewer taxpayer dollars would be wasted on unnecessary hazing, capture and slaughter. Wild bison would finally be allowed to roam portions of Montana, bringing ecological and economic benefits and sharing the landscape with all of the other wild animals that call Montana home.
Of course, negative publicity for the state of Montana would be reduced, too. Tourism is responsible for a huge portion of the state’s economy, and many of the tourists that visit Montana in response to the state’s tourism campaigns come to see wild bison and Yellowstone National Park.
The proposal for significant year-round habitat is not a choice between wildlife or livestock that would benefit one at the expense of the other; it would be a step forward for both Montana residents and visitors alike. No compelling reasons have been advanced for not moving forward with significant year-round habitat in Montana. In fact, to not move forward — given all of the major recent changes — would be a great setback and failure for the state.
It’s time for Gov. Bullock to do what science and the public have demanded: allow for year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana. It’s time to make the picture-perfect advertisements a reality.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is looking for tips on a wolf that was poached in the Burnt Fork area of the Bitterroot Valley, east of Stevensville, on Saturday, May 31.
The two year old male wolf had dispersed to Montana from Oregon and was wearing a GPS collar, which provided wildlife officials with movement data and gave an estimated time of death between 6 and 9 pm on May 31. The wolf was found shot near a road between Sawmill Saddle and Ambrose Saddle in upper Haacke Creek.
The wolf was collared in Oregon in 2013 and had made its way through Idaho and the Big Hole Valley before prior to arriving in the Bitterroot earlier this month.
Anyone with information about this incident is encouraged to call 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668). Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward up to $1,000 for providing information that leads to a conviction.