Steve Skelton, a rancher near Bynum, has been using livestock-guarding dogs as a way to protect his sheep from predators.
Recently, a grizzly bear made its way onto Skelton’s ranch, killing one of his sheep.
“The bear had partially gotten into the ewe and when the dogs got there, it was over with. They hazed him on—which is impressive for any kind of animal to move a full-size grizzly off their meal,” said Skelton. “If we didn’t have these dogs, we couldn’t be here with sheep. The predator load here is way too high with coyotes, wolves, and grizzly bears, and the dogs are working out wonderful.”
But others weren’t so lucky.
“Our neighbors to the south lost some calves and our neighbors to the north lost six prized rams, so yeah, we feel very fortunate. We feel like the dogs are doing a great job for us.”
Mike Madel with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks said guard dogs are just one line of defense, though.
“You know, livestock guard dogs can be really effective. We do know with grizzly bears being a pretty large carnivore that it’s a lot better system to have a combination of livestock guard dogs and electric fences.”
He added with the long winter, some ranchers are behind getting those defenses up.
A female grizzly bear was captured last week on a nearby Hutterite colony.
“The Rockport Colony had just not gotten their electric fence started yet, and the electric fence is meant to protect the sheep and in this case, the fence wasn’t on so these bears came inside the fence,” said Madel.
Skelton said his dogs aren’t there to kill or main the animal, they’re just trying to move it away from his livestock.
“By doing this, we can coexist or otherwise the bears would be trapped and euthanized and whatnot, too,” said Skelton.
A male grizzly bear was also captured near Bynum and euthanized after a calf depredation and the female bear was released with a radio collar.
Madel said females are given three chances while males are only given one before euthanizing.
Reporting by Kaley Collins for MTN News