The Carcass Pick Up Program

During the springtime calving season, ranchers lose some calves to natural causes. Calving is an exhaustive process and requires constant oversight, so often dead livestock would be brought to a boneyard that was located close to the calving lot, which in turn was often located not far from the rancher’s home. In the past, carnivores were not as prevalent on the landscape as they are today and this system worked fine. However, once grizzly bears began emerging from their dens at the same time of year as calves were being born, conflicts increased. In 2002, shortly after realizing these boneyards were essentially serving as a “welcome mat” to scavenging grizzly bears, the Carcass Pick Up Program was born.

During the calving season from mid-February through mid-May, a driver visits area ranches up to two times per week to pick up dead livestock. The driver drops the carcasses off at a centrally-located composting facility operated by the Montana Department of Transportation. In recent years, a nearby ranch has begun to use the livestock compost to enhance soil health.

Domestic and wild compost piles are kept separate at the Department of Transportation's Composting Facility.

Today, approximately 120 livestock producers throughout the Blackfoot as well as outside the Blackfoot in both Granite and Powell Counties voluntarily participate in the program. Those carcasses collected outside the Blackfoot currently go to the Powell County landfill in Deer Lodge. In the Blackfoot alone, over 90% of livestock producers currently participate.

Living and ranching in the Blackfoot means sharing the space with a diverse array of wildlife. We have to be willing to modify old habits and adapt as we go. As we do, we become ever-better stewards of this landscape.

-Justin Iverson, Iverson Ranch, Potomac

Partner contributions are critical to the ongoing success of this program: the US Fish & Wildlife Service provides the truck and fuel, the Blackfoot Challenge hires the driver, the Department of Transportation provides the use of their compost facility, Pyramid Mountain Lumber in Seeley Lake donates wood chips for the composting process, and numerous participating landowners provide monetary contributions to keep this service going.

If you are interested in learning more about or participating in the Carcass Pick Up Program, please Contact Us.

For more details about Carcass Pick Up scheduling and who to call, please click here for our annual letter to landowners.

“Living With Carnivores: Boneyards, Bears and Wolves” is a short documentary film telling the story of the Carcass Pick Up Program in the Blackfoot watershed. Co-produced by Seth Wilson and Jason Kauffman, Alpenglow Press Productions