We work with partners from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming on Range Rider projects.
What is a Range Rider?
As wildlife populations including large carnivores have returned to the West in recent decades, the role of the range rider has again risen to prominence.
What exactly is a range rider in the modern West?
There are almost as many variations of range riders as there are operations employing riders. These fall into two, maybe three categories: those who are primarily herdsmen and those who are primarily wildlife technicians. A third group primarily rides the range to check on cattle, see if any are sick, etc. The first group most closely matches the original concept of the range rider, and is what we generally mean by the term.
The best range riders are those who proactively manage livestock, by combining grazing management and stockmanship with knowledge of local carnivores, and to prevent conflicts. They most often work for ranches or grazing associations, and their primary job is to take care of livestock. Part of that is related to large carnivores, whether preventing or responding to predation. These riders do several important things. They are a human presence with livestock, but for presence to be meaningful, it must be perceived by the potential predator as a threat.
Riders find and treat or remove sick animals, which are easy prey. They find carcasses, which must happen quickly if cause of death is to be determined. Carcasses also attract carnivores, which may then prey on nearby livestock; so, depending on the situation, riders may remove carcasses, or move livestock away from them.
Range riders have varying degrees of responsibility for grazing management, depending on the context in which they are working and the management goals of the ranchers and agency land managers. In some cases, riders are responsible for following grazing plans or managing the distribution of grazing. Traditionally, cattle were scattered to improve distribution, but increasingly, grazing management is moving towards gathering cattle into relatively large herds and then moving the herd. The latter approach, if done well, can take advantage of the natural behavior of grazing animals: herding up for safety in numbers.
Range riders who can do all of the above can reduce livestock-carnivore conflict. The information provided by range riders or wildlife technicians to ranchers and agencies can also lead to better decisions, with regard to both livestock management and wildlife management. It also helps make the unknown known, and thus less threatening.