I was disappointed to hear that Judge McKeon had denied the plaintiff’s contention that quarantined Yellowstone Park bison transferred to the Indian Reservations should not be classified as “wild.” I obtained a copy of his decision in an attempt to understand his line of thinking. Unfortunately, it appeared to me that his 26 pages of legal maneuvering primarily dealt with rationalizing and justifying his predetermined decisions. While most of his opinions may have been on solid legal footing, others were a stretch of credibility.
For example, when addressing the main issue he quotes two dictionary definitions of the word “wild.” One was, “living in a state of nature, as animals that have not been tamed or domesticated”, and the other was, “feral”; or “[....] produced without the cultivation or care of man.” He contended the quarantined bison are not “wild bison” under the first definition but are “wild bison” under the second one, “as they have been produced without the cultivation or care of man and remain feral or undomesticated.” I would contend this conclusion is faulty on two points. First, no one has declared or claimed these bison were “feral” (a domesticated animal gone wild) and secondly, I don’t know if these quarantined bison have been “cultivated” but they sure as heck have been under the care of man!
The judge then used a convoluted discussion of State statutes pertaining to the handling of “wild bison” by Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and the Department of Livestock to justify calling the quarantined bison “wild.” He contended the Legislature’s authorization of FWP, “to transplant and release ‘wild buffalo or bison’ onto private or public land in Montana,” inherently required confinement of the bison which he claims negated the recent statute that declared confined bison were not “wild.” However, I maintain that capturing and temporarily holding bison for translocation is in no way comparable to bison that have spent their whole lives in confined captivity. At no time does the Judge address the issue that many of the bison in question were born, raised and bred in captivity and by no stretch of the imagination can they meet any definition of being “wild”.
If the quarantined bison are “wild bison,” as the Judge maintains, then why are they still contained in fenced pastures on the reservations? Why are they not allowed to roam free like the other wildlife on the reservations? I think we know the answers!
It is easy to get discouraged considering the setbacks we have experienced. First, Governor Bullock’s veto of Mike Lang’s good bison bill and now Judge McKeon’s decision that bison born, raised, bred, fed, watered, and repeatedly tested for exposure to diseases, still qualify to be classified as “wild bison.”
However, take heart! The recent decision by FWP to cancel their bison meetings was partially a result of them finally realizing the extent of the opposition to “wild bison” in Eastern Montana. Our thanks go out to all the groups and individuals that wrote letters, emails, posted comments on web sites, etc. They definitely got results!
In closing, if you value our unique life style and communities then I urge you to join groups (such as Malta’s Montana Community Preservation Association) that are fighting to see they are preserved.
Ron Stoneberg lives in southwest Valley County.