Just as wildlife know no boundaries, we are heading north of the border to Canada this week! The Cougar Fund recently had the privilege of speaking with Alberta rancher Louise Liebenberg, whose ranch The Grazerie was the first certified Predator Friendly ranch in Canada. Located near the town of High Prairie in north central Alberta, The Grazerie is situated right in the middle of cougar, wolf, coyote, and black bear territory. As a result, raising sheep and cattle in the area comes with a number of unique challenges. So, how have they fared?
When Louise and her husband moved to Alberta from the Netherlands to start up their new operation, they made a big decision: they wouldn’t rely on shooting predators to prevent conflict (a commitment they symbolically honored by not purchasing a gun). Lethal removal of potentially troublesome predators was a road they wanted to avoid if possible, as she and her husband Eric shared an equal appreciation for livestock and wildlife. Right from the get-go, then, they were committed to ranching based on non-lethal deterrents and coexistence.
To prevent conflict with predators, The Grazerie employs a number of interesting strategies, including: livestock guardian dogs, various fencing designs, night corralling for sheep, and lambing at specific times of year when the risk of depredation is reduced. While these methods have been very successful, Louise admitted that it’s a “delusion” to think depredation is entirely preventable, before sharing that they had suffered some takes by predators. She reiterated how this is simply a part of the business they’re in, and thus, their goal is to minimize conflict to the greatest degree possible.
What was most striking about Louise was her sincere belief that it was her responsibility as a rancher to prevent conflict. She lamented how “the system” in place doesn’t incentivize innovation in conflict prevention, and as a result, many ranchers are content to suffer losses so long as they are compensated. We discussed how a better system might be one that compensated only those who had taken all reasonable measures to prevent depredation (a similar system is currently in place in Oregon). Despite these frustrations, Louise is committed to the way The Grazerie does things, and takes much pride in the fact their their methods protect wildlife; wildlife that belongs to the public, she was sure to remind me.
Moving forward, Louise hopes to bring more awareness to the importance of predator friendly ranching – both to the public and other ranchers. She hopes that sometime in the near future, The Grazerie will be able to capitalize on their predator friendly certification and do more direct marketing. Before wrapping up our conversation, I had to ask: are there cougars hanging out around the ranch? Louise, much to my surprise, explained how she doesn’t lose too much sleep over the cats (her LGD’s effectively keep them at bay). This was music to my ears!
The Cougar Fund believes that ranchers like Louise (in addition to farmers, private landowners, and even corporations) can be great allies in conservation*, and we are deeply appreciative of the amazing work they do. Their efforts to promote coexistence between people, livestock, and predators ensure a future for everyone. So, we must extend a huge thank you to The Grazerie!
*Unfortunately, ranchers do not always get the credit they deserve, and critics (many of whom are conservationists like us) are quick to generalize and chastise them. But, as Louise and I both acknowledged, the alternative to family owned and operated ranches is almost always less desirable (think: subdivision, or industrial ag with less regard for wildlife). Thus, it is increasingly important that we view ranchers as part of the solution, not the problem. Breaking down old barriers and opening new lines of communication is a great place to start.