Grizzlies in the Springtime
My neighbor calls me at 7:21 am.
I don’t know this neighbor well. She lives about a mile north of me as the crow flies, but her life is centered in Valier and farming while mine revolves around ranching and Conrad activities.
She calls to say three grizzlies are headed south from her yard.
I look out at the heavy ewes just about to drop lambs, still safe in the corral and thank her.
“Be careful,” she offers before hanging up.
I love the tangled weave of complex systems. Grizzlies are an integral part of our complex ecosystem.
I believe in live and let live. It’s kind of cool to live in a world that exudes so much power, so much might in those claws and jaws.
The policy of encouraging predator populations makes sense on paper – natural balance, the cycle of life -- heck, even the cycle of nutrients.
But the disconnection between policy and reality fires my flame at the moment.
Current policy forces me to protect my sheep with my hands tied behind my back. The sheep offer their own defense, of course, and it is just about as effective as mine. An image flashes through my mind of me standing in the center of a flock of sheep, rattling a string of pots and pans with my teeth while the ewes stomp their feet at 500 pounds fronted by 5-inch canines.
I head to the corral for a closer look at today’s to-do list. Three ewes stand over newborns. Lambing season has begun.
I leave the new families in place and turn the rest of the sheep to pasture. Then I take a rifle and binoculars to go fix some fence, watchful on a warm spring day, considering my options.
I’m not sure how I will take care of the situation if I discover grizzlies attacking my livestock. I have several choices, some legal, some not. Some risk my life, some don’t. What I do know is that I will take care of the situation.
Because I have to.
I thought back to the first, most deadly time a grizzly invaded my sheep lot.
Mine was his seventh strike – he had been captured and moved after killing livestock six previous times. He didn’t eat what he killed.
It was early June. My husband, Steve, planned to leave that day to visit his new grandson in Mississippi.
I wrote about the trauma.
By the time my account was published in a weekly western newspaper, Steve was on his way back home.
He stopped for breakfast in a little South Dakota café. He couldn’t help overhearing the local coffee group on his way to a booth.
“Did you read about that grizzly killing sheep in Montana?” one asked.
“That poor woman! Her husband just left her all by herself. What is she supposed to do?” another chimed in.
“They hadn’t even caught the bear and he just took off!” noted a third.
Steve watched the shaking heads as the waitress brought his eggs.
He ate in silence, then took the bill to the counter.
He paused on his way past his jury.
“I left her with a .44 magnum and a 30-06. If I had to bet, I’d bet on Lisa,” he spoke to stunned silence.
Time spirals forward. I strap on the same .44 pistol, hope the worst will be a bit of slime on the grip from carrying a newborn lamb to the barn and step out into the dawn’s early light.