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Ranchers are being told to take photos and cover up any livestock that may have been killed by a predator to assist Wildlife Services investigators who are being stretched thin in Western Montana.

“Right now we’re going through a really busy time,” said John Steuber, state director of the agency. “Both grizzly bears and wolves seem to be busy this week.”

As cattle and sheep graze on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management allotments in mountainous areas of Western Montana, they come into territory also occupied by wolves, grizzly bears, black bears and mountain lions. By this time of the year, those predators have figured out where to locate and kill livestock, Steuber said, and predation goes up.

Typically, Wildlife Services likes to dispatch an investigator within a day of the report, since evidence of what killed the animal can quickly dissipate due to scavengers feeding on the carcass or rain that may wash away tracks. Hot weather that Montana is experiencing also helps to more quickly decay a carcass.

“It can take a full day to look at one livestock,” Steuber said. “It can be time consuming.”

So the agency alerted the Livestock Loss Board, which sent out an email advising ranchers to document any kills they may find with photos and to cover the kill to try and protect it from further scavenging.

“Currently predation from wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions is at an extreme high volume,” wrote George Edwards, executive director of the board, in his email. “Their specialists are backed up two to four investigations deep, and it is increasing daily. Please be patient with them, leave messages and do what you can to protect the evidence of the kill such as placing a tarp over it.”

Last year the state Livestock Loss Board paid out almost $209,000 to livestock owners who lost 218 animals to confirmed predation. So far this year the board has paid out almost $72,000 for 84 confirmed wildlife kills, including 17 in Carbon County, 16 in Lewis and Clark and 14 in Teton. In those three counties, 15 of the kills were attributed to wolves, 23 to grizzly bears and nine to mountain lions. Ten of the grizzly bear kills were in Carbon County, 12 were Teton.

“There’s just a lot of grizzly bear damage going on right now,” Steuber said.

One 5- to 7-year-old male was killed April 22 on private land just south of Red Lodge, near Bearcreek, said Shawn Stewart, a wildlife biologist with Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The wolf depredations in Carbon County were near Roscoe earlier this year, he said, but nothing has happened recently.

Wildlife Services has 20 livestock investigators spread across Montana, but calling in another investigator to help out isn’t practical, Steuber said, since Eastern Montana staff may not be trained to deal with grizzly bears or may be busy with coyotes in their own territory.

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.