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“Elk Rent” Payment-for-Presence Conservation Program

New partnership harnesses artificial intelligence and a unique payment model


Using advanced camera traps powered by artificial intelligence (AI) together with landowners’ innate knowledge of the land, this innovative program is the first of its kind in the region.

Paradise Valley serves as an important wintering ground for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s iconic elk herds. As rapid development threatens wildlife habitat in the valley, ranchers and their large, open land holdings play a valuable role in maintaining ecosystem connectivity. Providing habitat, however, comes at a cost.

Rather than paying ranchers for predator losses as traditional livestock compensation programs do, PERC’s payments are based on the presence of elk to specifically mitigate elk-livestock conflict. The pilot program is designed to test the payment-for-presence system as well as the efficiency of artificial intelligence game cameras with continuous refinement.

Druska Kinkie, who along with her husband and son run Emigrant Peak Ranch, regularly sees hundreds of elk on her property during peak migration season.

The heavy wildlife presence imposes costs through lost forage, infrastructure damage, and the threat of disease transfer, namely brucellosis, a reproductive disease that is spread from elk and bison to cattle.

Elk in winter.

“Elk are often viewed as uninvited guests on a rancher’s property. Ranchers are essentially feeding the elk at great personal expense. Ultimately, we need these private open lands to remain intact if we want to conserve this unique ecosystem, and paying ranchers directly for providing this public good is a critical step toward accomplishing that.”

— Brian Yablonski, PERC CEO

Harnessing smart cameras to calculate elk rent

  • Novel collaboration: This payment for presence program has brought together Emigrant Peak Ranch and Grizzly Systems, a local technology firm that uses advanced AI camera traps with an integrated software platform.
  • Emerging technology: To easily capture the number of elk on the ranch at any given time, the program relies on game cameras installed in key locations throughout the property. The advanced technology helps differentiate between random movement such as grass blowing in the wind and actual wildlife detection. Over time, the AI technology learns how to better identify elk, reducing the amount of data to analyze.
  • A unique payment model: A minimum of 20 elk captured on camera across the ranch in a single day constitute an “elk day” and triggers a financial payout to the rancher. A bonus payment is offered when 200 or more elk are captured in a single day, with a $12,000 cap on total annual payments.
Jeff Reed of Grizzly Systems (left), Druska Kinikie of Emigrant Peak Ranch (center), and PERC’s Brian Yablonski (right)

“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.”

— Druska Kinkie

project partners

Grizzly Systems is a Paradise Valley-based technology firm that specializes in smart camera traps.
Emigrant Peak Ranch is a family-run cattle operation based in Paradise Valley, Montana.
Closeup of a bear in winter.

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