26 June 2019

The elk calves that were present a month ago have all but disappeared from the lower basin. It is difficult to know whether the calves were killed or the cow elk-calf pairs moved to a different location. There are still herds of cow elk that range in size from 10 to over 25 in the lower basin, just no calves. 

Wildlife throughout the basin has been more evident as summer arrives and riding the USFS grazing permit area before the cattle arrived allowed me to observe animal sign before cattle made trails more difficult to read tracks. 

Trails used by cattle are also used by wildlife

Trails used by cattle are also used by wildlife

Tracking

One of the best tools I have for recording the location of tracks is a program used my many hunters called OnX. OnX is an affordable and fantastic smartphone app that transforms a smartphone into a functional tool for range riding work. OnX is the top GPS hunting app and for good reason. This tool provides information for 121 million private properties, 985 million acres of public land, 421 map overlays and over 400,000 miles of trails. These layers allow one to identify not just private property lines but also different forestry sections on a topographical, satellite, or combination hybrid map.  OnX allows maps to be saved so that cellular service is not necessary to use the program.

OnX can track the location of the app user and you can mark locations and setup way points. For example, I came across this black bear print: 

Black bear track

Black bear track

I then used OnX to mark the location so that I can start to understand the basic patterns of where sign of bears and wolves are commonly found. As a result, I was able to see that wolves leave tracks to and from the stock tank from both directions while a small black bear only accessed it from one direction. Here is an example of plotting a point for a bear track using OnX:

OnXexamplebeartrack.jpeg


Using tools such as OnX to record wildlife movement can help us to have a better idea which areas are in-use habitat spaces for grizzlies and wolves. Since these in-use areas will shift due to the spatiotemporal availability of food resources, this information will be useful for informing land and livestock managers that wish to avoid high amounts of livestock-predator cross habitat spillover. 

-Sabrina Bradford, Tom Miner Range Rider

It is clear that bear and wolf used these trails before cattle were moved to permit. Cattle also use these trails to access water and pocket meadows.

It is clear that bear and wolf used these trails before cattle were moved to permit. Cattle also use these trails to access water and pocket meadows.

12 June 2019

Continuing Education & Branding 

During the first week of June in addition to livestock monitoring, I attended a soil science workshop by Nicole Masters and a small, speaking event called “The Future West”. It is important to recognize that the scalar difference between these two events aides in representing the scope and scale of what may be tackled when devising ranch management strategies that result in what I refer to as “resilient ranchlands.” The soil science workshop occurred at Barney Creek Livestock which is just south of Livingston. Nicole talked about the ability of ranchlands to have an active role in carbon sequestration, the use of soil science to tackle cheatgrass and erosion, and the ability of ranches to have more successful grazing pastures as a result of a fungi/bacteria balance in the soil. The Future West conference, by contrast, focused on sustaining larger ecosystems in the west and included speakers that have observed and tackled human-wildlife interactions from a variety of perspectives including the mayor of Canmore (Canada), an ethnographer from the Nez Perce nation, a scientist from Yellowstone to Yukon, and a rancher from the Blackfoot Challenge. 

Livestock

At the end of this upcoming week cattle will be moved to forestry permits from the lower pastures. Last week was a combination of warm summer days…and the return of winter one morning with 6 inches of snow on the ground. Elk calves are now in the same meadows as the cattle, herds with direct habitat overlap space are more closely observed due to elk calves serving as one of the primary food items during springtime. Earlier this spring, I wrote a research paper on bear mortalities within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem using records from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST). I believe that one function range riders may serve is working with what we know about behavioral ecology of nutrition, diet and food acquisition habits of species such as grizzly bears to reduce depredation events.

Grizzly bears have a high spatiotemporal variation of diet. The grizzly bear’s “seasons” can be defined by the availability, or concentration, of specific food sources. In a study conducted by Gunther, et al. (2004), the grizzly bear’s seasons were characterized by the following diet and behavioral attributes:

Gunther, et al. (2004)

Gunther, et al. (2004)


I believe this information is important because over 80% of the grizzly bear mortalities within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem over the last ten years have occurred related to human-wildlife conflict. Though bear mortality numbers were not as high as elk hunting season related and anthropogenic food/residential access, livestock depredation events did contribute to management removal decisions. The below graph is a result of some of the work I have done and contrary to the two highest contributors to bear mortality, livestock depredation related bear mortalities were not highest during late hyperphagia. Since I am able to view these data results through the perspective of not only a scientist but also as someone that has spent many years working for ranches throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the temporal pattern of bear mortalities related to livestock depredation were not surprising. In the springtime, cattle calves and elk calves have spatial overlap at times and during early hyperphagia, cattle are often in higher elevation pastures, chasing the green wave and the furthest out they may graze from the home ranch before gather occurs for fall works.

Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team’s records of bear mortalities within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem showed this pattern when I sorted the depredation-related mortality records by bear season.

Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team’s records of bear mortalities within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem showed this pattern when I sorted the depredation-related mortality records by bear season.

While range riders survey for evidence of livestock depredation from bears or wolves, monitoring a herd’s overall health is equally important. Factors such as a thinly spread herd across a large area of landscape, a calves weak from scours or cows battling hoof rot all influence the vulnerability of a herd to depredation events. I recognize that some supporters of range riding efforts may have never attended a branding and may not know what occurs at one besides the branding itself but it is also a time for vaccinations and doctoring problems such as abscesses, new scours that may have appeared since the last check on the herd. Have any range-riding related questions? Feel free to send them in at TomMinerRangeRider@gmail.com.

-Sabrina Bradford, Tom Miner Range Rider

Getting ready to gather pairs before branding (Photographer: Hilary Zaranek-Anderson)

Getting ready to gather pairs before branding (Photographer: Hilary Zaranek-Anderson)



15-24 May 2019

The running joke about Montana weather is “if you don’t like it…wait 15 minutes.” As the 2019 range rider season for the Tom Miner Basin starts there have been plenty of windy, snowy and wet days with the occasional ray of sunshine breaking through. Work has varied between community, cattle and horses.

I have met with livestock managers and landowners within Tom Miner Basin which allows them to put a face with the 2019 range rider. The meeting also allows those using a range rider to express their needs, concerns, and past observations of the relationship between livestock depredation and the land. In addition to these meetings, the community has also been engaged during my work this past week. A group of college students came to the Anderson Ranch on May 16 to learn more about range riding and range stewards. These students were able to ask Malou questions about the program and also asked me about my path to range riding. The afternoon of May 16, fladry was taken down and a team of four others assisted me with collecting the fiberglass poles, rolling up fladry, and storing the fladry appropriately. The three volunteers were from a variety of backgrounds including a Masters student from the Netherlands, a couple from Portland, Oregon that have spent many years hiking the Yellowstone backcountry, and a family member that has chosen to spend the summer working for the Anderson Ranch. One of the fladry rolls belonged to the NRDC and I was able to meet involved NRDC representatives when returning the roll to their office in Bozeman. Lastly, we posted “No Smoking” signs along private property boundaries of Tom Miner Road in hopes of discouraging bear-watching tourists from lighting up in areas that are a high fire risk. These signs are especially important because the areas that these tourists park are especially vulnerable to fire in August and September which is also when road tourist visitation is at its highest.

I checked the cow-calf pairs out to pasture multiple times over the past week as the weather provided coverage for predators. In addition to grouping the herd closer together the health status of the cows and calves was checked and the livestock manager contacted when sick animals were observed.

IMG_0003.JPG

An important portion of checking cow-calf pairs is having good cow horses. Work has been done every day in order to prepare the horses physically and mentally for early mornings and long days. There is nothing like working horses in cold, wet, and windy weather to break them out of their winter vacations.

-Sabrina Bradford, Tom Miner Range Rider

Roundpen work

Roundpen work