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Conference Explores How to Live with Wildlife

A conference in Lewistown this week is looking at issues such as conflict-reduction practices between agricultural producers and wildlife. (Venture West Ranches/Flickr)
A conference in Lewistown this week is looking at issues such as conflict-reduction practices between agricultural producers and wildlife. (Venture West Ranches/Flickr)
January 24, 2019

LEWISTOWN, Mont. – How can Montanans live alongside the state's wildlife?

That's the question being explored at a conference this week in Lewistown.

The first Living with Wildlife conference, sponsored by the National Geographic Society and organized by American Prairie Reserve, is bringing together agricultural producers, wildlife experts, government officials and others to discuss the sometimes contentious issue of interacting with wildlife.

Chris Johns, Beyond Yellowstone program leader for National Geographic, says the conference's goal is to build bridges among communities that might disagree on how to manage wildlife.

"We all want clean water,” he states. “We all want clean air and we want healthy rural economies.

“How do we take those things that we believe in and cherish and how do we use that common ground, so to speak, as a way to start to build relationships and trust?"

Thursday, Johns is hosting a panel on conflict reduction practices. The conference also has support from the Smithsonian Institution, Wild Sky ranching program and Mystery Ranch.

Zachary Jones, co-founder of Yellowstone Grassfed Beef, is at the conference Thursday speaking about the economics of living with wildlife.

Jones maintains empathy is the key to this conference.

"A little more empathy coming into the conversation from all sides can help this conversation around living with wildlife not be so polarized," he stresses.

As a former photographer and editor-in-chief of National Geographic, Johns has covered conservation around the world. He says Montana and other Northwest states could be a laboratory for learning how to live with wildlife.

Johns says that would be fitting since the modern concept of conservation began with Yellowstone's protection in 1872.

"The rest of the world is watching with great interest with this iconic landscape and how we can make it a healthy place for generations to come," he points out.

Organizers say they've seen an overwhelming response to the conference, which currently is at capacity.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT