The Depressing Bison Meeting

 


There have been two more state bison meetings since last I wrote. One was July 14 and 15 in Billings to propose testable alternatives for an Environmental Impact Statement, and one was Oct. 9 in Great Falls to develop those alternatives. There was a lot to be depressed about at those meetings.

A depressing number of people travelled from western Montana to Billings to say they want a herd of bison, and they want to keep it in our backyards. They didn’t comprehend why that was an issue for us.

Depressingly, the bison discussion group recognized that private landowners and Indian tribes can be mercurial and challenging to negotiate with, but didn’t notice that on the CMR Wildlife Refuge the federal government plays the role of landowner. Roads and access have been removed and hunting limited on the CMR. The bison discussion group’s goal is a huntable herd of bison, but it has failed to recognize that every landowner will be challenging to negotiate with, will expect some return for hosting the state’s bison, and may not be willing to allow hunting and state control in the long term.


It was depressing that no one realized bison management will not be based on the testable alternatives or managed by the state, and never could be. Once the first bison sets its first hoof in Eastern Montana, the state will be sued. In Billings, it was clear Montana has plenty of people who don’t believe in self-determination for Eastern Montana. Bison here are supposedly of world-wide importance, and most of the world’s people don’t intend to be guided by the discussion group’s principles. Past history tells us bison will not be managed by state biologists; they will be managed by judges and by the lawyers of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) that make their money gaming the Equal Access to Justice Act.

Also depressing was the group’s conclusion that a bison herd in the Breaks would satisfy the clamoring masses and make them leave us in peace. There are half a million bison. The internet says there are over 6,400 bison herds. And one more herd of a thousand bison will suddenly make everyone happy? Somehow I doubt it.

The grand prize for depressing comments went to Lewistown’s Ron Moody in Great Falls. He represents urban sportsman and stated they want to hunt bison, but not at the expense of the welfare and goodwill of local landowners and residents. That wasn’t depressing, but he also said, “with the state land recreational access, the Missouri Breaks Monument designation, wolf reintroduction, grizzly listing, on and on and on and on, uniformly the decision of the people of Montana has been ‘no action,' but that doesn’t mean that the action is not taken.”


That sparked a short wolf discussion. Expanding on the group’s general theme, I submit that if Montana’s vote of “no action” had been followed, wolves fairly closely related to our original native wolves would have gradually expanded into the state. Wildlife and residents would have been able to adapt in stages. This would have been much better for the environment and for Montanans than what actually happened: federal bureaucrats introduced many extra-large exotic wolves very suddenly.

When the bison discussion group talked about how Montana made the right decision for the environment when they chose “no action,” I was reminded of researching the Missouri Breaks Monument. In that case, the nearly unanimous opinion of the people attending public hearings and of the entire Montana Legislature was that the Missouri Breaks should not be designated as a monument, because additional protections were not warranted and would only cause problems. Montana’s people believed that the Breaks were already being adequately protected by Montanans. President Clinton promised that people living in the Monument would not be expelled or forced to surrender their culture. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wrote a plan that would honor that promise. In the decades since, the people living in and around the Monument and the federal government have been embroiled in an endless lawsuit by radical NGOs that will not be satisfied until the locals are expelled.


Ron Moody's point is a good one. Montanans can make the right choice for the environment and for Montana, and still be overruled by outside interests that care more about control than healthy Montana ecosystems. Now that’s depressing. But we should also be reminded that this fight is not just about our whims (as it is for the other side). We are fighting to preserve not just our families, not just our communities, not just our homes, not just our culture, but the entire complex and priceless ecosystem of Eastern Montana. And we need to remember that even if the state or their discussion group make a lot of sense and have reasonable ideas, they aren’t the only ones involved.

Sierra Dawn Stoneberg-Holt lives in southwest Valley County.

 

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