By Bonnie Davidson
The Courier 

Bison Bill Gets The Boot, APR Requests Change In Grazing


Bonnie Davidson / The Courier

Bison up at the Fort Peck reserve breaking from the wind in the shelter of the hills. The bison bill allowing county commissioners to approve relocating bison to the area was vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock this week.

After a lot of work on a bill that passed both through the Montana Senate and House, Sen. John Brenden-R was disappointed yesterday as his bill SB 284 was vetoed. The bill would allow county commissioners to approve the relocation of wild bison and allow them to ask for conditions if they saw a need.

The bill passed in the the house and senate by the end of March with some amendments. It went up for the vote again in April and passed both the house (59-40) and senate (32-18). The governor made the veto official May 4.

"SB 284 sets a dangerous precedent by supplanting the state's management of fish and wildlife with county regulation. Montana's wildlife is held in trust for all citizens of the state, not just those citizens of a particular county. Management by political boundary may have little connection to how fish and wildlife actually use a landscape or waterway," Gov. Steve Bullock stated in his veto statement to the Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. He said that his decision was reflected in MCA 7-1-111(12).

He stated in the letter that the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is already required to do a thorough process where public was included on determining the relocation of bison. He also included the successful relocation of brucellosis-free Yellowstone bison to tribal lands and stated that this legislation did not include tribal consultation. He stated that if FWP found relocating bison to a location appropriate, that it would be reasonable to expect them to work closely with county concerns.

"I vetoed a similar bill in 2013 and requested that FWP do more work cooperatively with Montana counties and tribes. I believe the department is working hard to meet that expectation," he ended his statement.

Brenden spoke to the Courier and said that the Billings Gazette had already called him and that was how he learned that the bill had been vetoed. The day prior he expressed his belief that the bill would probably not pass through Gov. Bullock.

"It's unfortunate that the governor doesn't want to hold onto local control," Brenden said. "It shows he doesn't care."

He added that the bill would have nothing to do with the Indian reservations, as they are sovereign and wouldn't fall under county government. He believed that the governor vetoed the bill to keep from upsetting Democrat voters.


Another current issue on the bison front is a permit the APR (American Prairie Reserve) applied for through the Malta BLM (Bureau of Land Management). Their request was to remove interior fences on grazing land for their bison, located on land they purchased in Phillips County last year. They also requested to change the grazing season from year round to May 1-Nov. 15. The application for the chance arrived on March 26. They also asked to change the class of livestock from cattle to bison.

This request would not affect Valley County as it is specific to the location. The BLM would have to do an environmental assessment to determine if the request would be viable. There is also a public comment period for those who have concerns or comments on the change. This process would be the same process that any other rancher would go through if they were to change anything in a grazing permit. After the public commenting period there is also an appeal process. So the full process could take up to 90 days, or more depending on the variables.

Comments were due by April 30 into the Malta office. Questions and comments that came in were similar to questions that the Valley County Conservation District had. Jeff Pattison, president of the conservation district, explained that the interior fences would be a part of the rotational grazing and that BLM has to be a good steward of the land and they would consider issues concerning the requests.

He explained that bison eat grass and would forage hard and graze hard and they could create a situation where the bison might try to move onto neighboring property if they felt they needed to continue to graze and the resources weren't available to them. He explained that they're attempt to classify bison as wild and free roaming would mean that they would be classified like deer, elk and antelope. Not something the conservation district believes would be good for the local constituents their trying to protect.

"We're protecting the tax base and the land and the water," Pattison said.

He also said that he wasn't sure if it was a wise decision to approve the permit. He said that cattle are rotated to graze to help assure they don't damage the land and they don't starve.

"It's like a crop, you don't want to grow the same thing year after year," Pattison said.


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