“You’ve got livestock – you’ve got deadstock”.   That may sound callous to some but unfortunately farms and ranches all have some degree of death loss, often caused by weather, disease and the birthing process.  Traditionally, many farms and ranches disposed of these carcasses in a “boneyard”.   This would be a selected area on their land which landowners considered a safe and appropriate place for disposal.

When bears and wolves were less frequent on the agricultural landscape, boneyards posed little threat to the safety of livestock or farm families.   However, with the return of large carnivores to many areas, ranchers found that boneyards were being frequented by not just lesser carnivores such as coyotes, but bears and wolves as well.

But it wasn’t just the boneyards that the bears and wolves began to visit.  Other conflicts between ranchers, bears and wolves also increased, in part because these boneyards were drawing large carnivores closer to farms and ranches.   Examples of these conflicts include: depredation of livestock, tearing apart grain bins or beehives and getting into garbage.   All of which can pose a threat to the safety of farm and ranch families, their livestock, and even the carnivores themselves.

In the early 2000’s, ranchers and other partners of the Blackfoot Challenge (a community based conservation effort in Montana’s Blackfoot River watershed) developed a deadstock removal program.  Living with Large Carnivores: Boneyards, Bears and Wolves is a newly released film that shares the journey of the folks of the Blackfoot Challenge as they work to find solutions for reducing conflict with carnivores on the agricultural landscape.

While the film demonstrates the work being done in one area of Montana, it also proposes the idea that by working together, from a grassroots level, we can learn to reduce the risk of living with large carnivores on our farms and ranches.   The Blackfoot Challenge has provided a model for carnivore conflict reduction that can successfully be implemented in any part of the world.

Living with Carnivores: Boneyards, Bears and Wolves from Alpenglow Press Productions

After visiting the Blackfoot Challenge area in 2008 and seeing the deadstock removal program in place, ranchers began to develop a similar program in southwestern Alberta.    The Waterton Biosphere Reserve Deadstock Removal Program, built on the efforts of local landowner groups, has now grown to include free deadstock pickup for producers on over 500000 hectares (1.2 million acres) in the municipalities of Cardston, Pincher Creek, Ranchland, and Willow Creek.

Living with large carnivores is not a simple exercise, certainly not simple enough to be solved by one initiative like deadstock management.  But as Seth Wilson, Wildlife Committee Coordinator for the Blackfoot Challenge, says in the film, carcass removal is ‘one piece to a larger puzzle of living alongside of large carnivores’.  We hope that by working together to put the pieces in place, we can solve this puzzle.

For more information on the deadstock removal program in southwestern Alberta click here.

Or contact Jeff Bectell, WBRA Carnivores and Communities Coordinator
Phone: 403 653 2219
Email: jbectell@watertonbiosphere.com