Defenders' president Rodger Schlickeisen believes, "It is critical that people who support conservation of important large predators like the grizzly bear take personal and economic responsibility for their actions. If ranchers are forced to pay for the occasional problems that grizzlies can cause, it leads to ill will and intolerance for the species, which can result in illegal killing."
Defenders has operated a similar program to compensate ranchers for wolf losses for more than ten years. During that time it has paid nearly $50,000 to more than 50 livestock producers. Many wildlife experts credit this program with making wolf restoration in Yellowstone and central Idaho possible. According to Ed Bangs, who heads wolf recovery efforts for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the western United States, "This program should be a model for others who want positive solutions for complex environmental issues. The livestock compensation program certainly made wolves much more tolerable to livestock producers...and has made wolf recovery more easily attainable."
According to Hank Fischer, Defenders' Northern Rockies representative in Missoula, Montana, "Having a dependable grizzly compensation fund is arguably even more important for bears than it is for wolves. Grizzly bears have the lowest reproductive rate of any land mammal in the United States, and populations can decline rapidly if they suffer excessive mortality."
Defenders started compensating Montana ranchers for grizzly bear losses in July, 1997. Since that time, Defenders has paid $8,500 to ten ranchers for the loss of 16 cows, 4 sheep, 5 turkeys and 5 ducks. Fischer describes this as an average year. "Grizzlies don't kill livestock very often, but when they do it can cause hardship for individual ranchers. Establishing a credible and reliable compensation program will increase landowner tolerance for bears and increase their prospects for survival. Our experience with wolves has convinced us that this is a practical and effective way to promote conservation."
This is how Defenders' Grizzly Compensation Fund works: If a landowner suspects that a grizzly has killed his livestock, he should cover the remains with a tarp and call state or federal wildlife officials. If these officials verify that a grizzly caused the loss, Defenders then contacts the landowner and works with him to determine the market value of the livestock. Once the value is agreed upon, Defenders sends the producer a check. "We strive to get producers a check within two weeks of receiving verification of a loss," says Fischer, who administers this program as well as Defenders' wolf compensation program. If there is a dispute over the livestock's value, Defenders relies on the judgment of the local county extension agent. There is a $2,000 cap on compensation for any single animal. Defenders pays fall value for calves or lambs killed in the spring or summer.
Defenders' Board of Directors has authorized expenditures of up to $25,000 until this permanent fund is established. Livestock losses to grizzlies average about $7,000 per year, and the plan is to use interest from the $100,000 fund to make annual depredation payments. People interested in supporting this Grizzly Compensation Fund should write to:
1101 Fourteenth St. NW, Suite 1400
Washington, DC 20005
or call (202) 682-9400