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Ranching among grizzlies

A grizzly bear walks past cattle in Tom Miner Basin.


Cindy and I spent a week in Gardiner, Montana, driving into Yellowstone Park to look for wolves and bears. Friends told us a good place to see grizzly bears was outside the park, so one evening we drove north into Tom Miner Basin, past a series of cattle ranches. A few miles into the basin, we parked beside the county road, along with eight other vehicles.

Spotting scopes lined the road as we all searched for bears in a nearby private meadow owned by the B Bar Ranch. Our friends had told us they had seen five and 10 grizzlies in this same meadow during their visits. We waited until dusk but did not see any grizzlies.

Driving out, however, on a neighboring ranch, we spotted a grizzly on their property. It was digging and eating wild caraway. The bear then ambled past some cattle and disappeared into a gully.

The B Bar Ranch amazed me, a prosperous cattle ranch that just happens to have bears (and wolves) wandering through it. The ranch has a large sign on their fence talking about wildlife, listing a few rules, their website and that of the Tom Miner Basin Association.

Later, I went to the Tom Miner Basin Association’s website to learn the basin has a resident wolf pack of 12 wolves and over 20 grizzly bears that routinely visit the area. The Basin shares a six-mile boundary with Yellowstone National Park and shares almost every wildlife species found in the park. This includes elk, white-tail and mule deer, moose, grizzly and black bear, wolves, coyotes, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bobcat, mountain lions, and numerous small mammals. They also have more than 75 bird species that migrate through or reside year-round on the ranch.

The B Bar website states their philosophy toward predators: “We respect the role of established predator/prey relationships and the importance of tempering our activities with regard to native wildlife populations” and “… we endeavor to live without conflict with our wildlife neighbors.”

I was so intrigued, I called Maryanne Mott, owner of the B Bar ranch. My first question was how many cattle they lose to bears and wolves, but she said very rarely. She also has seen as many as 12 bears at one time in a ranch meadow.

She has been on the ranch for 40 years and routinely has riders out. When I asked if using riders was not an expensive proposition, she said “it is part of the deal.” Riders check on and frequently move the cattle, check the water, mineral block and fences, and keep track of large, dangerous predators.

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The B Bar keeps only yearlings and steers so calving is not a problem. They raise Ancient White Park cattle, a breed which is very protective and bunches up when predators approach. I asked if the ranch uses electrical fencing to protect cattle but they use it only around some houses and tents to keep bears away from those structures.

As if ranching among large predators was not enough, the ranch offers a full range of guest activities during both summer and winter. Plus, each evening during summer and fall, they have at least a dozen vehicles lining the county road watching for grizzly bears in their meadows.

Maryanne likes to see the enthusiasm and interest but worries about possible fires, trash and high speeds. She also worries about visitor safety and possible bear encounters.

Quite a ranching environment.

The B Bar Ranch amazed me, a prosperous cattle ranch that just happens to have bears (and wolves) wandering through it.

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