Livestock and Carnivore Monitoring with Range Riders
In 2008, the Blackfoot Challenge piloted a livestock and carnivore monitoring technique in the Blackfoot, now known as the Range Rider Program. Developed in response to the return of wolves to the area, herd supervision has been practiced for centuries throughout the world as a way to reduce livestock losses to carnivores. While the increase in human presence near livestock deters wolves and bears from approaching, one of the biggest benefits of the program has been the increased communication and trust that has resulted between wildlife management agencies and livestock producers.
From May 1 to October 31 each year, three or four seasonal range riders monitor carnivore activity in proximity to livestock on summer grazing range spanning areas around Potomac, Greenough, Ovando, Helmville and along the Blackfoot River corridor below Lincoln. They are in communication with the ranch owners and managers they monitor for – relaying what they’re seeing on the ground in terms of carnivore activity, as well as general herd health. This extra oversight is especially helpful during the summer months when ranches are busy haying.
While range riders sometimes observe wolves and bears directly, more often than not they look for other signs like tracks, scat, and trail camera footage to monitor carnivore presence. Range riders also work closely with the bear and wolf biologists at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to monitor carnivore whereabouts, and sometimes use radio telemetry.
We work closely with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to produce seasonal Wolf and Bear Activity Reports. These reports compile notable carnivore activity and management actions. They are posted on this website, or you can Contact Us to receive them directly in your inbox.
Each season brings new challenges for trying to keep an eye on where we could possibly be having conflicts with predators and livestock. We just never know what might happen. What we do know is that it is beneficial to have experienced local folks returning to the range rider program each season. These range riders have gained the trust of all parties involved. They are the glue that holds this program together and it does not work without communication.
-Eric Graham, Blackfoot Challenge Wildlife Coordinator