By Mark Hebert
Phillips County News 

Locals Say 'No Action' to Bison

 

Georgie Kulczyk / For The Courier

GEORGIE KULCZYK / THE COURIER Leonard Swenson speaks for himself and the Wittmayer Grazing Association with a vote against further bison release in Northeastern Montana.

Over 300 people gathered at Malta High School last Wednesday night during a public hearing hosted by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to comment on a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for bison conservation and management in Montana.

The EIS gives four possible alternatives for how to deal with bison in Montana and of the nearly 40 citizens who spoke, mostly people from Phillips County, all but three said that they would be in favor of the "no action" alternative and asked that there be no bison restoration in the state.

"The only workable alternative is no action," said Dale Veseth. "My first objection to this problematic EIS is that it does not include a detailed social and economic impact statement of the cost to local communities. This will be a tremendous cost to the people on the land."

Veseth said of 4,000 hours per year he spends ranching, 20 percent of that is spent checking and fixing fences, and added that bison reintroduced to the area would only add to that workload.

"We hear how the general public is in favor of free-roaming bison," Veseth said. "The next question for the general public is: Are they going to help pay the cost of bison management? If they'd like to donate 100 hours of time, per person, per year to fencing with local ranchers, or what is their credit card number?"


Veseth said that 13 years ago near his land, a ranch bought by an absentee landowner had bison and the herd ended up on the east end of Veseth's ranch. To get to his ranch, Veseth said, the animals went through at least seven fences.

Bryan Kindle said that he is a fourth generation rancher in the area who also wants to see no action taken on bison and wondered what benefit the animals would provide.

"They are going to do nothing but compete with wildlife and livestock," he said. "If they are going to come, which I expect they are, I'd like to see it as shoot on sight."

The EIS cited four alternatives being analyzed in the draft and besides the "no action" alternative, the other three options are the restoration of publicly managed bison herds on private and/or public lands of willing owners, restoration of publicly managed bison herd on Tribal Lands and restoration on a large landscape where there are minimal conflicts with livestock.

Nancy Ereaux requested that no action be taken on bison and said that the three minutes allotted each speaker was not nearly enough time to discuss each of the problems contained in the EIS. She said farmers and ranchers in Phillips County produce enough food to feed 2.3 million people per year but the nation's food producers have trouble keeping up with the demand of an ever-growing world population.


"Why would we displace any of the land in ag production with bison when we already have 400,000 bison in the U.S., including 10,000 private bison in Montana?" Ereaux asked. "Why do we need further expansion? It just doesn't seem anyone has given any positive reasons for the other alternatives."

Kevin Koss, a fourth generation rancher, agreed with taking no action and said he felt a lot of money had been spent on the EIS for something almost no one in Montana wants to see happen. He wondered who will watch over all of Montana's wildlife while FWP employees were spending all their time chasing buffalo calls.

Mike Sjostrom said he was for no action and was scared of the other three alternatives.

"They all start out with 'publicly managed'," Sjostrom said. "I've never seen a good definition of that and it scares me to death."

Mike Ereaux said that as the bison herd in West Yellowstone grows so do the interactions between wildlife and humans.

"By the last count I saw," he said, "it is buffalo five, humans zero. Also, as these numbers increase, even if you have them in a confined situation, there will be an increase of interaction between the ranchers, their livestock and bison. I tell you, it won't be pretty because I think we are pretty well armed."


Besides the 30-plus calls for no action during the nearly two hours of discussion, three people spoke in favor of alternative #3, (none from Phillips County) which would see managed bison herds on Tribal Land. Of those people was Montana HD 31 Representative Bridget Smith (D) from Wolf Point.

"I don't believe there will ever be free-roaming buffalo, not in this day and age," Rep. Smith said. "There will always be some fences."

When asked who paid for those fences, Smith said that the tribes had. The response got many scoffs from the audience.

The draft EIS is available for public comment until 5 p.m. on Friday, September 11, 2015 at the FWP site – fwp.mt.gov – and can also be mailed to: Bison Conservation and Management EIS; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701.

 

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