The mention of wildlife conservation normally does not bring to mind grazing management or use of livestock but it should.
Most times, when conservation is the focus, removal of grazing livestock from land is the solution proposed by most environmental or wildlife-centric groups.
It is refreshing in light of this negative trend that there are groups like Keystone Conservation, a Bozeman, Montana-based organization. Together with its collaborators, Keystone is going against the grain, seeking solutions with a holistic approach.
On such potential solution is The Rodear Initiative (RI), a project started by native Montanan and project director, Garl Germann, in the summer of 2012. Germann’s goal is to develop a new approach to managing livestock grazing on extensive rangelands adapted to the Greater Yellowstone region. He wants to improve land health as well as livestock production, while also improving wildlife habitat and preventing predation by large carnivores such as wolves and grizzly bears.
The term “rodear” for which the project was named finds its roots in the Spanish language and is used to describe the rounding up or herding of livestock. This herding concept is applied to the management of the cattle used in the project in their implementation of their planned grazing program.
When asked about this management system Germann says, "This type of livestock management is 'new' to the modern ranching community but was applied in years past by our stockman predecessors – and before that was naturally adopted for a means of survival by the ancient ungulate herds of North America."
The first year the project was launched as a pilot period on Germann’s family ranch allotment in the Tobacco Root Mountains near McCallister, MT. Predatory species such as wolves, black bears, mountain lions and grizzly bears are known to roam throughout this region.
Despite these carnivorous challenges, no losses occurred within the herd during the extent of the study. Management of the cattle consisted of daily moves to new grazing using small temporary electric fence paddocks equipped with electrified fladry. Fladry are closely spaced streamers that hang down to almost ground level and are known to deter wolves.
RI plans to launch an official study on their innovative management system this summer. Research will focus on monitoring to compare utilization patterns inside and outside the intensively managed areas. In addition they will continue to innovate new management concepts to deter predatory species and allow for coexistence of livestock and wildlife on rangelands.
"We’re developing win-win-win solutions where the land, the ranchers and their livestock, and the wildlife all benefit,” says Matt Barnes, field director for rangeland stewardship at Keystone Conservation about the project’s goals. "Ranchers may be able to apply some of the same management approaches that work for land health and livestock production to prevent conflicts with large carnivores such as gray wolves and grizzly bears."
Currently, Rodear is looking to hire a range technician/rider to assist in implement the project. This position is certain to be a challenging and rewarding experience, and one that if I was not busy with my own personal business endeavors would consider. I am highly recommending this experience to anyone looking to gain valuable experience implementing grazing plans, rodearing of cattle, fencing, and improving upon their low-stress livestock handling skills.