Petitions Oppose Roaming Bison
Document Being Circulated In Valley and Phillips Counties
Published: Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
Ranchers and local government officials in Valley and Phillips counties are moving from a passive state of worrying about the growing prospect of being taken over by a "buffalo commons" to active measures to preserve the ranching economy in this area.
In both counties, a petition is being circulated to respond to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks evaluation of the potential to establish a huntable, wild and free-roaming bison population in the state.
The petition states: "Montana already has a wild bison population in Yellowstone. A free roaming bison herd will negatively affect private property rights and compete with livestock and existing wildlife for forage and adversely affect rural communities. We the residents of Valley County OPPOSE any evaluation or plan the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department have for a wild free roaming bison population in Valley County."
Valley County has had a policy statement on livestock grazing in place in its Land and Resource Plan since 2003. It says in part, "Bison will be considered a domestic livestock in Valley County and be taxed accordingly. They will be subject to the same state and federal rules and regulations regarding health and communicable diseases as other domestic ungulates. They will be subject to the same range laws."
The petition originated in Phillips County and was adopted by Valley County, according to Valley County Commissioner Dave Pippin. These counties are right in the hot zone described by leaked internal documents from the Department of the Interior as pristine grasslands, highly desirable as a new national monument. After the documents were made public in March, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar denied that there were any plans to create a national monument in Montana. The draft documents were called "brainstorming discussions."
Part of an Interior memo notes: "If protected, Montana's Northern Prairie would connect more than 2.5 million acres of protected grasslands bordering the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area and Grasslands National Park in Canada. This cross-boundary conservation unit would provide an opportunity to restore prairie wildlife and the possibility of establishing a new national bison range."
"Free-ranging buffalo in Valley County would be the end of it right there," Pippin said Tuesday.
He expressed concern that BLM land would no longer be multiple-use land, but converted into Park Service property or a monument.
Leonard Swenson is a member of the Wittmayer Grazing Association, a group of ranchers who have grazing leases on the vast BLM property in south Valley County.
"If we don't start speaking up it will be like the CMR," Swenson said. "It was a game range that changed overnight to a refuge."
He also worries about brucellosis that buffalo might bring in and spread to cattle.
"Silence is deemed acquiescence," said Maxine Korman, whose family ranches south of Hinsdale. "You have to complain loudly."
"I think it's a big scam," Swenson said. "It's a big mess. I don't see how it will work. If we're going to maintain our way of life, I don't think we can have foreign interests come out and buy up our land."
The establishment of a bison range is already going on in Phillips County, where the American Prairie Foundation has bought and leased about 86,000 acres since 2004 for a prairie-based wildlife reserve. Members of the Wittmayer Grazing Association have voted to refuse an offer from the APF to buy out their BLM grazing permits.
As of November 2009 the APF contains about 76 bison, which came from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.
This information is taken from an April 2010 409-page Draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement written by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The Courier has reviewed a copy, although the Service has tried to withhold it from the public until later in the year.
The Garfield County commissioners had this draft CCP on their agenda for discussion recently, but refused to allow Janet Guptill, the editor of the Jordan Tribune, to see it, which she sees as a contravention of the Montana Freedom of Information Act.
In a letter from CMR headquarters dated May 27, 2010, the Service said that an article in the Jordan Tribune incorrectly indicated that this internal review version was available for public viewing. The refuge manager, Barron Crawford, said that many changes were still to be made.
"While we welcome all suggestions on information that has previously been made available through our website or from previous mailings, comments on the Draft CFP and EIS can only be accepted when the Washington office and the Department of Interior approves the publication of the draft document for public review. As soon as this occurs, the Service will publish a notice in the Federal Register, notify the media, send out a planning update, and post the document on the website."
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