They won't need to sign any long-term agreements and presumably pets are allowed.

Seriously, on paper, there would appear to be a lot of "what if" clauses in an agreement such as this. But if it compensates Montana ranchers fairly, alleviates some financial burdens, and helps one of the most popular game species in the state thrive, then let's optimistically give it a thumbs-up.

The organization is called PERC: The Property and Environment Research Center, a Montana-based think tank for incentive-based conservation solutions. The Northern Ag Network tells us that over the weekend, PERC announced a payment-for-presence program to compensate a rancher for providing elk habitat, starting in Montana’s Paradise Valley. It is intended to be a supplemental reimbursement plan for ranchers whose livestock competes with migrating herds for grazing.


Using strategically-placed cameras powered by artificial intelligence (AI), PERC's mission is to work in tandem with ranchers to get a head count of how many elk are grazing on their land at any given time. Landowners can also submit smart phone photos and videos from areas of their property that PERC game cameras might miss.

Rather than paying ranchers for predator losses as traditional livestock compensation programs do, PERC’s payments are based on the presence of elk whose presence might limit existing livestock grazing opportunities.


A minimum of 20 elk captured on camera across the ranch in a single day constitutes an “elk day” and triggers a financial payout to the rancher. A bonus payment is offered when 200 or more elk are captured on camera in a single day, with a $12,000 cap on total annual payments.


Northern Ag Network spoke with the Kinkie family, who own the Emigrant Peak Ranch. Druska Kinkie told them that they regularly see 400-500 elk on their property during peak migration season. That takes its toll on lost forage, fence damage, and the threat of disease transfer, namely brucellosis.

Mrs. Kinkie told Northern Ag, “This program has offered us a ray of hope. We want to do right by the elk, but not at the expense of our livelihoods. Compensating their presence offsets the costs they impose, making the elk less of a liability for us.”


True, they are migrating. But will they possibly linger with ample forage opportunities? Will that invite more predators? Will there be more risk to cattle, both as prey and from transmitted disease?


Paradise Valley serves as an important wintering ground for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s migrating elk herds. Ranchers and their large, open land holdings play a valuable role. But, providing habitat comes at a cost. The pilot program is designed to test the payment-for-presence system as well as the efficiency of AI game cameras.

A PERC spokesperson was quoted as saying, "Elk are often viewed as uninvited guests on a rancher’s property, as they are essentially feeding the elk at great personal expense. We need these private open lands to remain intact if we want to conserve this unique migratory ecosystem, and paying ranchers ‘elk rent’  for providing this public good is a critical step toward accomplishing that.”

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