Not everyone wanting to speak their opinion made it to the bison discussions at the Big Horn Resort in Billings this week, but dozens did. The meeting was convened by the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Monday and Tuesday.
Valley County Commissioner Dave Pippin attended on Monday with others from the Hi-Line and said that around 150 people attended, along with media representatives. Pippin explained that a lot of discussion focused on free roaming versus contained bison and the difference between grass fed beef and bison.
Pippin said about 30 commenters spoke about the bison, with around 60 percent against and 40 percent for free-roaming bison. He also said that many of those pro-bison speakers were from environmentalist groups who thought adding free-roaming bison would be a step in the right direction.
The agenda included about an hour of discussion on what would take place during the meeting, and provided two hours of discussion for the public to provide input on alternatives.
Pippin spoke up about Charles M. Russell (CMR) land containing 84,000 cattle in 1984, a total which dropped drastically to only 18,000 cattle by 2010. He said added bison to that land would end up taking more cattle from the land, which could affect the local economy and cause some serious cuts to tax revenues. People at the meeting were discussing placing as much as 1,200 bison in the area, which might not support the bison.
Pippin also said the discussion of genetically pure bison, free roaming and intermingling with cattle, would not help with efforts to keep the breed pure – so the group needed to focus more on what was acceptable to keep the bison pure.
He said he was also surprised that he didn't hear or see any tribal representatives on the board. While the tribes were present at the meeting, there didn't appear to be any on the board.
The meeting agenda listed the following for discussion:
• There should not be free roaming bison, with no containment.
• There should be a clear process for adjusting any plan, and the plan should be broadly accepted by affected stakeholders.
• The plan needs to be in place to ensure objectives are monitored, achieved and where useful adapted.
• There needs to be a clear and lawful containment plan, with an explanation on how the containment protocols will be funded.
• Source populations need to be clearly identified and disease free with a monitoring protocol to ensure the health of the population.
• Potential co-mingling between wild and domestic bison must be addressed.
• Public hunting is recognized as a positive social goal and should be used as one of the primary management tools.
Several questions were raised by the panel as discussion continued, such as will managing bison as wildlife be a decision made by Montana citizens?
There also was talk of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be completed with the help of FWP. The plan to have a final EIS ready by spring was mentioned at the Tuesday meeting, according to the Billings Gazette.