Documentary explores ranching’s role in grizzly conservation

· May 19, 2022

Working Lands: A Story of Bears and Ranching is a short documentary that explores the surprising and complex relationship between ranchers and wildlife behind one of the world’s greatest ecological successes that has been quietly unfolding outside Yellowstone National Park. The threatened Yellowstone grizzly bear population has been expanding westward into a region known as the High Divide — a 150-by-120-mile complex of public and private lands spanning from Yellowstone to the Bitterroot Ecosystem, straddling western Montana and eastern Idaho. The Bitterroot Ecosystem contains the largest and most remote wilderness in the lower 48 United States and has long been designated as a recovery area for grizzly bears.

If recent trends continue, grizzly bears from the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide (centered on Glacier National Park) will meet in the Bitterroots to restore grizzlies to this vast landscape and genetically reconnect the Northern Rockies grizzly populations. This would mark a crowning achievement in conservation history, but serious threats stand in the way. Working ranchlands provide critical habitat needed for grizzlies and other wildlife to flourish. Unprecedented human population growth in the region is fueling rural sprawl that destroys crucial grassland, sagebrush, and winter range habitat and severs corridors needed for wildlife to migrate and grizzlies to expand. As wildlife are squeezed onto fewer ranches, conflicts increase, threatening fragile economics of ranching fueling more habitat loss and rural sprawl. Grizzlies and other wildlife depend on working ranchlands to thrive and ranchers may very well depend on wildlife to survive. Simply put, if ranches disappear in the Northern Rockies, the iconic wildlife for which the region is renowned will go with them.

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