Front Range County Farm Bureau member Karli Johnson had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with Aurelia Skipwith, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The group, which was consisted of livestock organizations, Pondera and Teton county officials and a conservation association, discussed Grizzly bear depredation of cattle and elk in the state.
Johnson, who ranches in Choteau with her family, explained the group addressed bear populations in certain areas of the state and de-listing of the animal.
“There was a suggestion about revising the ‘three strikes you’re out’ Grizzly bear rule, which means the animal has to be caught and confirmed that it killed livestock three times before it’s terminated. The on-the-ground experience is once they start with livestock depredation, they don’t stop and get harder to catch, which can really extend the loss period for producers,” said Johnson, adding that Grizzly bears are becoming a widespread issue around the state, not just around the east slope of the Rockies.
The group shared personal stories about living in bear country. They told Director Skipwith about bears in their yards, bear scat under swing sets and what it’s like to be faced with making decisions about safety, yet abiding by the current bear management plan.
“I talked about how we regularly have bears near our home and the concerning part is that we live a half a mile from the elementary school in Choteau,” said Johnson. “I'm not just worried about my children, I'm worried about the kids who live and play in town and are totally unaware there may be a bear nearby. The reality is that Grizzly bear issues aren't just livestock producer issues, they are community safety issues. I asked for increased transparency about where collared bears are to raise awareness that we do live in bear country.”
Johnson noted that Skipwith was very receptive to the group’s comments and indicated she is committed to taking the suggestions back the Fish and Wildlife Service, and working towards improved Grizzly bear management.
“She reiterated her commitment to making decisions that are science-based and within the legal structure of her role. We are thankful to have someone like Director Skipwith who is willing to take the time to meet with and listen to farmers and ranchers,” Johnson said. “We are also thankful to have a senator like Steve Daines who facilitated this meeting, advocates for us, and helps our voices to be heard.”
Front Range County Farm Bureau member meets with federal wildlife agency
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