By James Walling
The Courier 

Probing the Project

American Prairie Reserve Responds to Questions Sparked in Malta

 

Courtesy of APR

A representative from the American Prairie Reserve has responded to questions from the Courier regarding local frustrations about large-scale bison release efforts.

APR Communications & Outreach Manager Hilary Parker was in contact with this publication following questions posed in writing to Fish Wildlife & Parks representatives on Aug. 20.

Parker's answers beg questions about the efficacy of FWP and other regulatory organizations in controlling bison release in the state. Asked what APR's response would be to an FWP decision to take "no action" on further bison release in the area, Parker responded that APR's broader plans of releasing 10,000 bison on 3.2 million acres of land in the region would proceed unabated, if not unaltered.

"If the state isn't ready to move ahead with any of the alternatives in the EIS, that would be completely fine," Parker said. "We don't lobby state officials one way or another. That really blows people's minds, but American Prairie Reserve isn't your typical organization - we take a really long-term view."


Many frustrations and concerns on the subject were voiced by members of the public at the Aug. 19 public hearing hosted by FWP representatives in Malta.

At the meeting, FWP Nongame Program Coordinator Lauri Hanauska-Brown refused to answer questions about APR involvement in bison release efforts currently under consideration, saying, "I don't have an answer for you on that."

Further discussions with FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim in the days following the Malta hearing confirmed what many familiar with so-called "free-roaming" bison restoration efforts in the region already suspected:

"APR has contacted FWP about its interest in bison restoration," explained Aasheim on Aug. 24, "but has presented no specific proposals."

Pressed further about APR contributions to the Environmental Impact Study under consideration at the meeting, Aasheim added, "APR provided information to FWP to ensure the case study of APR bison [was] accurately represented."

Asked whether the contact between the FWP and APR for the purposes of assembling an EIS on the subject of bison release constituted a conflict of interest, Aasheim answered, "FWP wrote all sections of the EIS based on its own research and on information provided by outside sources." He followed his statements with a flat denial that any conflict of interest exists.


"When the state is ready for wild bison, we'll be ready," Parker said in response to questions about conflicts of interest in the EIS. "We're not trying to push anything through. We were named in the EIS because we have bison that we're willing to put within a fence on the Charlie Russell, and because we have the resources and know-how to manage them as we've successfully managed our herd for ten years."

The plans, intentions and obligations of APR and other NGOs in the region remain mysterious or even suspicious to many area residents. The subject of bison release and restoration efforts generally has been complex and contentious.

Despite the fact that APR and its progenitors (the American Prairie Foundation and the World Wildlife Foundation) have been at this since 2001, their vision of grassland restoration and the actual form it will take if allowed to develop in our region remains illusive to even the most concerned and informed area residents.

After a wide-ranging and open discussion of APR's long-term plans with this reporter, Parker has agreed to proceed in good faith with our readership and answer questions about APR's management strategies and goals for the restoration of grasslands on the Great Plains, the potential threats to critical regional industries like ranching, and other pressing concerns.

Rather than replicating another in a long line of hearings, polls, and discussions held by various organizations on the subject that have amounted to little more than supervised comment sessions thus far, Parker has assured the Courier that she will answer questions in a timely and transparent manner, or see that they are answered by the appropriate APR personnel.


Asked if she would take questions from local experts and respected authorities of our choosing on the subjects of ranching, land management, economic development and related scientific fields who live and work right here in Valley, Phillips and Roosevelt counties, Parker replied enthusiastically and definitively in the affirmative.

To suggest questions--or, more importantly, questioners--please contact the Courier at courier@nemont.net.

 

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