GREAT FALLS - Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group that pays ranchers for livestock killed by wolves and grizzly bears, is refusing to reimburse a Hutterite colony for two sheep killed by a bear in September.
Minette Johnson, the group's Northern Rockies representative, said group members worked with the Rockport Hutterite Colony west of Pendroy to build three electric-fenced bedding grounds to protect the sheep. Defenders also gave the colony money in 2000 to secure its night sheep pasture.
The two ewes killed this fall were in a pasture more than two miles from an electric fence.
"They aren't putting the sheep into the fenced areas until sheep get killed," Johnson said.
Defenders of Wildlife also changed its guidelines for compensation this year, she said.
Livestock owners are being reimbursed the first time they lose livestock to bears. Subsequent compensation will be awarded if a landowner is following recommendations by federal, state and tribal managers for preventing losses.
"Because this is our general policy, we will deny claims if landowners don't implement preventative measures," Johnson said. "Hopefully, this is a unique example, and more people will implement preventative approaches to protect their livestock."
The Rockport Colony disagrees with the group's position.
In a letter to Defenders, Ben Hofer, the colony's sheep boss, acknowledges the group's work on the three pens but points out the colony paid for the posts, labor and equipment. He also states that running sheep back and forth from fall pasture to electric pens during breeding season puts stress on the animals and negatively impacts the lamb crop.
"I feel we have gone above and beyond to cooperate with your program," Hofer wrote.
Since January, Defenders of Wildlife has paid livestock owners $18,089 for 18 cattle, 10 sheep and 53 chickens killed by wolves and grizzlies. The group has also invested $42,743 in 12 cost-share projects to prevent conflicts between grizzlies and humans.