Grand Teton NP, © Kari Funk
© Kari Funk

Northern Rockies

What We’re Doing to Help

Defenders has had a regional presence in the Northern Rockies since the 1970s when we first opened an office in Missoula, Montana to work on wolf reintroduction. With offices in Montana and Idaho, we are well-placed to continue to work on behalf of the region’s wildlife.

Coexisting with Wildlife

We work with wildlife managers, livestock producers and communities to implement nonlethal tools that allow wildlife to use these lands, while reducing conflicts and safeguarding personal property. Electric fencing, livestock guard dogs, range riders and aversive conditioning can all be effective tools to minimize livestock losses and property damage from wolves, grizzlies, bison and more.

  • We work with landowners in grizzly bear territories to make sure grizzly bear attractants such as garbage, livestock, chickens, fruit trees and birdfeeders are not available to grizzlies. This reduces the conflicts between people and bears, which keeps both safe. Some tools we use to accomplish this include bear-resistant electric fencing, bear resistant garbage containers, livestock guard dogs and range riders. 
  • The Wood River Wolf Project in south-central Idaho was established in 2008 and works with local stakeholders to use non-lethal methods to keep wolves from preying on livestock, which in turn protects wolves from people. Over the life of this collaborative effort with ranchers and county, state and federal officials, we have helped to keep wolf depredations to a fraction of one percent of the sheep population in a project area of thousands of square miles with tens of thousands of grazing sheep each season.
  • Defenders works with landowners on the edges of Yellowstone National Park to prevent property damage from roaming wild bison. Simple fences around gardens, landscaping or small back yards is often all that is needed to keep bison out of these areas, which keeps them roaming the surrounding landscapes with more acceptance from local landowners.
  • Defenders has maintained a Grizzly Bear Compensation Trust since 1997 to reimburse ranchers for livestock lost to grizzly bears, and to increase human tolerance for this species. Now both Montana and Wyoming provide their own grizzly bear compensation programs, and we continue to offer compensation for livestock producers in Idaho. Having the states take over compensation allows us to concentrate our efforts on tackling expanding coexistence problems to prevent conflicts. 

Endangered Species Act Protections

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the strongest and most important federal law protecting imperiled wildlife and plants. We promote ESA protections for rare and declining species, and we work to ensure that recovery actions are taken so that listed species can eventually recover.

  • The fisher is one of the rarest forest carnivores, with likely only a couple hundred living in the West due to over-trapping and habitat loss. In 2013, Defenders submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the Rocky Mountain fisher under the ESA. 
  • Canada lynx were officially protected under the ESA in 2000 in response to Defenders’ petition and litigation. Defenders pressed for improved critical habitat protection in 2006 and 2009. In 2010, Defenders and partners joined with FWS in defending the 2009 critical habitat designation from attack by snowmobile groups in Washington and Wyoming.  
  • Wolverines are another rare forest carnivore, thanks mostly to historic over-trapping. We have been fighting for nearly two decades to federally protect the snow-loving, mountain-living wolverines. In 2013, the FWS proposed to list wolverines as a ‘threatened’ species in the contiguous U.S. In a startling reversal one year later, the FWS determined they did not warrant listing and removed them from further consideration. Defenders is now challenging this clearly flawed decision in court.

Monitoring Wildlife Populations

Rare carnivores such as wolverines, fisher and lynx suffer from a lack of information regarding population size, trends and impacts from threats.  This information is essential for conservation.

  • Defenders initiated a Backcountry Wolverine Watchers program that encourages backcountry winter recreationists to “tread lightly” and report wolverine sightings.
  • We also partner with local Forest Service ranger districts to help establish and maintain multi-species mesocarnivore monitoring stations, where data are gathered via wildlife cameras and baited hair snare stations that document wolverines, fishers, and lynx and other species that visit the sites. In 2014 we organized 150 backcountry skiers to help the Bitterroot National Forest monitor small carnivores across the Bitterroot Mountains with these non-invasive techniques.

Connectivity

Defenders is a member of the People’s Way Partnership, a small team of agencies, tribes, and researchers dedicated to sharing and explaining the value of the 41 highway wildlife crossing structures that were constructed on a section of Highway 93 in Montana. Crossing through the Flathead Indian Reservation and initiated by the tribal government, the project is one of the premier examples of wildlife crossings in North America, and has documented tens of thousands of safe wildlife crossings by a wide diversity of species, from frogs to grizzly bears.  

Forests for Wildlife Initiative 

National forests comprise a large portion of the lands within the Northern Rockies and provide habitat strongholds for many listed and imperiled species, including wolverine, fisher, lynx and grizzly bear. Defenders’ Forests for Wildlife Initiative works to ensure that national forest lands are managed to conserve, connect and recover imperiled species and their habitats. To accomplish this, Defenders is working to ensure that revised national forest management plans in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming have sufficient conservation, recovery and monitoring standards for at-risk wildlife.