A Montana Field Guide to Sharing Landscapes with Large Carnivores
In Montana, ranchers and wildlife are increasingly competing for space and resources on the landscape, leading to conflicts that endanger animals, people, and livelihoods. In 2018, Future West initiated a multi-phase project to reduce these conflicts through a field-guide, college curriculum, and intern program that would educate current and future agricultural and environmental professionals on the value, use, and effectiveness of wildlife conflict prevention tools. For Phase I, Future West Staff and an Intern conducted interviews, carried out site visits, and developed case studies on the wisdom and lessons learned by Montana ranchers and the groups and agency staff who support these landowners in order to identify the critical ‘ingredients’ (social, technical, financial) that are necessary for successfully implementing a given conflict prevention measure. This work revealed ways for us to overcome the limitations of previous conflict-prevention efforts and achieve a shared conservation vision. We are now in Phase II of the project to ensure these invaluable findings can be taught and applied through our partnerships to ensure strong, sustainable agricultural communities and safe, connected wildlife habitat in Montana.
-Provide participating ranchers a supportive platform to inspire broader use of nonlethal tools.
-Identify the types of wildlife conflicts ranchers face and effectiveness of each tool for addressing them.
-Educate fellow ranchers on the use of and rationale for employing nonlethal tools.
-Change the standard practices of ranchers to a nonlethal conflict-prevention approach.
-Increase social and financial support from conservationists for ranchers using nonlethal tools.
-Ensure wildlife a safe passage across a connected landscape for reproduction and foraging.
-Afford ranchers a voice and sense of agency on how to sustain their livelihoods.
Future West intentionally designed this project to allow for additional on-the-ground opportunities to emerge as Phase I was undertaken, and, fruitfully, the scope of work, goals, and objectives of Phase II have evolved. For instance, a newly added goal is to improve relationships between ranchers and the broader conservation community in order to ensure they can achieve their shared aim to protect and steward healthy Montana landscapes. Our initial findings have repeatedly shown that these relationships are ESSENTIAL to any successful conflict-prevention effort. Phase II’s next steps, detailed below, outline the additional opportunities we have created and intend to undertake in response to Phase I findings to broaden the impacts and ways that our work will be applied in the coming year. As we have argued, existing resources provide technical information about nonlethal conflict prevention tools, but they are not sufficiently persuasive to change ranching norms, nor do they address the disconnect between landowners and conservationists. As planned, we have identified the human stories, i.e., the process and context elements, that capture ranchers’ rationales for participating in collaborative efforts to nonlethally address wildlife conflicts. These elements capture not only the obstacles to successfully addressing the coexistence challenges, they go a step further to provide the first nuanced and synthesized understanding of opportunities for overcoming them.
The Project has entered Phase II, which entails: writing the field-guide, finalizing the curriculum and dissemination plan, and sharing findings within and among our established partnerships.
Phase I of Future West’s work has allowed us to cultivate relationships with landowners, landowner groups, agency staff, university faculty, and community members to create a strong and engaged network of participants across western Montana. They are ready and willing to help build communications strategies, educational programs, and partnerships that will advance conflict prevention efforts and, most importantly, improve our collective understanding of how to protect healthy agriculture and wildlife communities on vibrant shared landscapes. Future West has the only certified environmental psychologist in the state leading this program; Phase II of this work will allow us to provide ranchers and project partners with the key support, information, and opportunities to apply the elements that are essential for effectively implementing conflict prevention efforts (and any successful conservation effort), thereby ensuring a clean and healthful environment for all Montanans long into the future.
Figure 1. Sample profile layout. Each profile will include a map indicating project area, project history, primary tools/measures being used (range riders, guard dogs, etc.), lessons learned, expenses and how funded, bios, 2-3 high quality photos, and project partners.