Conserving Grizzly Bears and Family Ranches

The Conservancy is dedicated to the future of these two icons of the West

Maps show change in areas occupied by grizzlies. Photo: Pine Butte Guest Ranch on the Front is owned by The Nature Conservancy.

You might be surprised to learn that ranchers like Karl Rappold and Dusty Crary are not only proud to have bears on their Rocky Mountain Front ranches, they're actually improving conditions to help bears thrive. Fact is, the fates of ranchers and bears are deeply intertwined. On Montana's Crown of the Continentfamily ranches preserve hundreds of thousands of acres of vital grizzly habitat.  But, as family ranching faces its own struggle to survive, the habitat they protect is also threatened. That's why The Nature Conservancy is working in ways that ensure a future for both these western icons.


As recently as the 1850’s, tens of thousands of grizzly bears roamed the western states as far east as Nebraska and Kansas. In less than a century of human settlement, bear numbers plummeted to fewer than 2,000 animals on less than 2% of their historic range. And as the bears found less room to roam, the chances of conflicts with humans also increased. Today, human encounters are the highest cause of grizzly deaths.

In more recent times, family ranching has also become threatened. The slim profit margins of ranching and farming have always made them jobs done as much for love as money. But, demand for second home subdivisions, oil and gas development and the cost of passing land on to heirs have created a big financial incentive for some to split up their land, and the grizzly habitat it preserves.


Conservation easements have proven to be an effective tool to help both ranchers and bears. With an easement, a ranch family gives up the right to subdivide the land in exchange for financial compensation. The financial infusion can help them expand their holdings, pay down debt, and reduce the costs of inheritance to their children, keeping them on the land.

Ranchers are also reducing risks of human-bear conflicts by  changing some long-standing practices. These include:

  • Removing food sources that may attract bears, such as keeping feed and trash in bear-proof containers, or stringing electric fence around commercial beehives, food storage sheds, and ranch home yards.
  • Adjusting when and where their cows give birth to reduce the chance of bears killing calves
  • Relocating carcasses from ranches to places where the bears can have access to this valuable food source with less chance of conflict with humans.


  • On the Rocky Mountain Front, alone, more than 200,000 acres of private ranch land have been placed under conservation easements through the Conservancy and our partners and demand for more is steady
  • Grizzly numbers are increasing by approximately 3% a year and bears are moving eastward into places where they’d disappeared  




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