Ski touring in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Image: Karsten Heuer
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Country Walkers guest admiring one of the many stunning lakes in the Canadian Rockies. Photo: Courtesy of Country Walkers.
“The vision resonates with the guests and the positive impact Y2Y’s efforts has on the landscape is evident every day guests hike through these mountains and valleys."
Joe Flynn, Chair of Country Walkers’ Responsible Travel Committee.

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Y2Y Supporter: Dennis Iverson

Ranching in predator country and helping to "bear" the cost of conservation.

Photo: Nelson Kenter
Montana rancher, Dennis Iverson, knows a thing or two about ranching in predator country. As he says, “If you own land at some point you’re going to feed some wildlife.”

As conservation efforts yield positive impacts on wildlife populations, ranchers find themselves feeding wildlife more and more; bearing the cost of conservation success.

Despite these challenges, ranchers like Dennis Iverson, Jeff Bectell and Eric Butters are choosing to live with wildlife. Fortunately, there is help to deal with the consequences.

When grizzlies moved into the valley bottoms of Montana’s Blackfoot Watershed, ranchers including Dennis Iverson had to find a solution to predation.

“I’d rather we didn’t have these predators,” says Iverson, who personally lost two calves in a two-year period. “But they are here to stay. Shooting them is not a solution. We need to find alternatives, and finding solutions is the Blackfoot way.”

Iverson is part of the Blackfoot Challenge, a group of land-owners, business-owners and agencies including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the forest service, that generate answers to natural resource problems.

“We facilitate work on the landscape,” explains Iverson. “And we use federal agency dollars to execute it on the ground.”

Their repertoire of solutions is highly successful. Electric fencing around calving areas, a carcass pick-up program, which collects and composts deadstock from ranchers twice per week, as well as many education programs, which teach people how to reduce wildlife attractants, have resulted in approximately a 90 percent reduction in conflicts with grizzlies.

Range riders, who seek out wolf packs on the landscape and communicate pack whereabouts to ranchers, have also helped ward off conflicts with the animals.

When it comes to dealing with wildlife, the Blackfoot Challenge is leading the pack. “Now,” says Iverson, “others are looking to us to find solutions.”

Ranchers are using novel ways to protect their livestock and livelihood from predators. Photo: Karsten Heuer

Crossing the Border

One such group lies north of the U.S.-Canada border, along the eastern slopes of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. According to fourth generation rancher, Jeff Bectell, this is ranching heaven and the grizzlies love it too!

“Many farmers and ranchers enjoy wildlife,” says Bectell. “They are proud to have them on the land, but it is a question of threshold.”

Following in the footsteps of the Blackfoot Challenge, this southern Alberta community united to deal with the question of threshold. With the support of provincial grants, they implemented many of the same strategies as their U.S. neighbors.

Partnership Feels Good

Living with wildlife is expensive, but according to Alberta rancher, Eric Butters, it feels good to partner in bearing some of the costs. Butters, received $1,000 of assistance when he paid $8,600 to replace his wooden grain bin with steel after a grizzly found its way in.

Butters commends organizations like Defenders of Wildlife, a Y2Y-supported group, that not only encourages landowners to work together to minimize loss, but also helps compensate landowners when loss occurs. “These types of programs are welcomed by ranchers,” adds Butters.

All three stories signal a critical shift in attitude by both ranchers and conservation groups like Y2Y. This new attitude accepts that bear country and cattle country are one in the same; sees the other as an ally and not an enemy; and most importantly, shares in the success as well as the burden.

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