Buyout for bears

 

IDAHO

Everybody knows that sheep and grizzlies just don't get along.

The predator-prey antagonism has been especially acute in Idaho's Targhee National Forest, where five grizzlies were relocated and 34 domestic sheep killed from 1996 to 1998. One sheep herder suffered a grizzly mauling.

But bear-sheep conflicts on the Targhee promise to diminish in the future. In January, the Defenders of Wildlife and the Wyoming Wildlife Society's Memorial Bear Fund paid the Dick Egbert Sheep Company $30,000 to move to a different grazing allotment, returning prime grizzly habitat to the bears.

"Every year, it took a lot of time and effort to deal with the grizzlies," says Walt Grows, Range Specialist for the forest. Three years ago, he says, Targhee forest officials marked ten allotments to be retired for wildlife habitat, pending the consent of the grazing permittees. He notes that the Egberts "gave up some good range, but they were very cooperative."

The buyout represents a change in strategy for Defenders of Wildlife, which has tried to preserve grizzlies by compensating livestock owners for bear-killed animals, says Northern Rockies field representative Minette Johnson. Using funds as an incentive for herders to retire their allotments and move elsewhere is a "permanent solution for permittees and wildlife," says Johnson. "A purchase like this is a vision for the future."

Grows hopes that similar agreements will be reached in the remaining allotments marked for wildlife recovery. "Rather than having an allotment closed by litigation, losing a herder, or losing a bear from the ecosystem, this is a solution that works."