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Funding flows West to help ranchers reduce conflicts with large carnivores

A trio of cowboys on horseback herd a large group of sheep.
Alex Proimos
Flickr Creative Commons
Research shows that an additional human presence on a landscape can help protect herds from large carnivores.

News Brief:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is spending more than $22 million to help livestock producers in the West reduce conflicts with large carnivores and steward land for wildlife. The funding is part of a larger, billion-dollar federal effort to preserve agricultural lands.

The money will go to two projects in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana and Oregon. It will help ranchers put up fences, remove carcasses from landscapes and hire range riders to watch herds more closely. These are common – but often resource-intensive – methods to reduce conflicts with bears, wolves and other carnivores.

Erik Kalsta, a longtime Montana rancher and program director with the Western Landowners Alliance, welcomed the announcement. He said this money helps communities on the front lines of conflicts with animals that are expanding their footprints in the region.

“Society as a whole has decided that these animals need to be back on the landscape,” he said. “But right now, the burden of those animals being on the landscape is largely carried by farmers and ranchers. By agriculture. And without support, without a great deal of support or with support that is difficult to access.”

Kalsta said that many animal populations in the West can only connect to each other by traveling through private lands. Helping agricultural producers remain economically viable means that habitats are less likely to be sold, developed and fragmented.

Livestock, guard dog and other degradation can cost ranchers thousands in an industry where margins are thin.

“I like seeing these [carnivores] on the landscape. It’s a big part of what I enjoy about ranching. But at the same time, I am very aware of all the costs I have. And additional costs are so difficult to manage,” Kalsta said.

These USDA-funded projects are a huge step forward toward better supporting ranchers. Kalsta thinks that even more work could to be done to expand conflict-reduction and compensation programs in the region – as well as to customize them for Western communities.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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