The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By James Walling
The Courier 

Probing the Project: Part III

McKean, Stonebergs, Jacobs, Pippin and Partridge Fire Away at APR


James Walling / The Courier

Rose Stoneberg (pictured with granddaughter Zora at their ranch south of Hinsdale) and husband Ron offer questions to APR representatives.

The following questions from respected area residents were put to the American Prairie Reserve on Sept. 3. APR representatives have cooperated and agreed to continue in good faith as we delve deeper into the specifics of their plans for bison release and grasslands restoration in the region.

ANDREW MCKEAN: Do you presently consider the American bison to be wildlife or livestock? Are you working to change their legal classification going forward?

APR: Our bison are classified as livestock by the State of Montana. We are not working to change this status.

ANDREW MCKEAN: How will APR respond if its bison breach perimeter fences and cause depredation on neighboring, private land? Is there a formal insurance policy in place, or an indemnity fund that would pay for damages?

APR: We make contact with the bison within 24 hours of learning that they are out and do our best to return them as soon as possible. We have sufficient financial resources in place to compensate landowners for any damage the bison may cause. When our bison have gotten on a neighbor's property, we ask about damage and offer to compensate them. However, in 10 years of bison management, we've never had a neighbor request reimbursement for damages.

ANDREW MCKEAN: The APR and its supporting organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund, are remarkably accomplished in the realm of global and corporate public relations. Given that reputation, how has the group failed so consistently to improve relations with local communities in north-central Montana, the very communities that have the most at stake with APR's future plans? Can you give examples of ways that you are addressing that PR deficit?

APR: Because we need the money we raise to go as directly as possible into buying land, we haven't been able to prioritize PR. But in 2014, we hired someone to handle this very issue. This person now is conducting outreach like the kind that led to these articles in the Courier.

RON STONEBERG: South Phillips and Valley counties have been identified as critical sage grouse habitats. State and federal grazing management plans emphasize a need to eliminate continuous grazing and replace it with a system that incorporates substantial rest periods. A preponderance of research has repeatedly proven that adequate rest improves the quantity and diversity of plants in a pasture. Why then is APR petitioning the BLM to remove interior fences and switch to yearlong grazing?

APR: The differences in grazing patterns and preferences between bison and cattle are increasingly well understood. Year-round grazing of bison at the appropriate stocking levels has the potential to introduce heterogeneity to the plant communities that enhance biodiversity. This is one of our key conservation goals, and year-round grazing has advanced this objective on our other allotment.

ROSE STONEBERG: In my view, animal "management" consists largely of fences, animal number management and animal health. The APR keeps asking the BLM to let them remove fences. As recently as 2008, BLM documents refer to the removal of interior fencing as "experimental." It would take at least a 20-year monitoring period to determine whether yearlong grazing is healthy for either bison or the grasslands. Why do you consider a ten-year period sufficient to proceed on a larger scale with plans for interior fencing removal?

APR: We have had bison in pastures on BLM land without interior fences for more than six years now, and BLM monitoring indicates our allotments are in good condition - in fact, they're in better shape than when cattle were grazing there. Bison graze differently from cattle; they move further from water and graze more patchily, creating improved habitat for other species. They also graze at a scale an order of magnitude larger than cattle. We have been monitoring that impact over the last decade (and will continue to do so) and are being held to same standards for range health as any allottee. We are assessing that impact via independent projects with both the University of Montana and Clemson University. We would be happy to show you our bison pastures. If at any point BLM or independent research indicates a problem, we will work with them to adapt our grazing plan.

ROSE STONEBERG: If one looks at the Yellowstone bison and the effects of similar "free-roaming" policies there, one sees serious problems. How does your plan to remove interior fencing differ and allow the bison to roam free without problems of disease and inadequate feed becoming as or more acute?

APR: Our bison are not "free roaming" and only would become so IF the State of Montana decided to reclassify bison as wildlife AND it made sense for us to donate them to the state. They currently are classified as livestock by the State Montana and confined to APR deeded and leased lands by perimeter fencing. Our stocking rates are regulated by the BLM, which also monitors the ecological health of our federally-leased acres. The bison come from disease-free herds and are themselves disease-free - we know this because we choose to conduct frequent randomized tests.

PERRI JACOBS: Since the FWP's Jeff Hagener is a former employee of APF [predecessor to the APR], how does APR believe he can make unbiased contributions and decisions regarding bison relocation?

APR: That question is best directed to Fish, Wildlife & Parks and Jeff Hagener. But we have not expected nor experienced any preferential treatment, and again, as we are not advocating on the behalf of one or more of the EIS solutions, this presents no opportunity for him to act in a biased way.   

PERRI JACOBS: According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service and other sources, ranchers and farmers here in Phillips, Valley, Blaine, Fergus, Garfield and Petroleum generate $1.8 billion annually for the local economy. We also produce enough food to feed more 12 million people annually. How is "the Project" going to compensate for the loss (short-term and long-term) of our current agricultural and economic production and output locally and nationally?

APR: The local area currently supports approximately 500,000 cattle. When the 3-3.5 million acre Reserve is completed, it will be surrounded by ranches and farms. Likely, there will be private in-holdings within the completed Reserve and they will be ranches and farms. Providing habitat for 10,000 bison and abundant wildlife populations still leaves space for the vast majority of those cattle to remain in the local area.

DAVE PIPPIN: Has there ever been a study done to evaluate the ability of the rangeland in this region to support a year-round bison herd of the size you propose in terms of winter feed and water?

APR: Substantial anecdotal evidence from Indian oral traditions, journals of trappers, the writings of Lewis & Clark and eyewitness accounts of 19th century settlers all support the notion that the Northern Great Plains were capable of supporting an array of wildlife in numbers that far exceed today's populations. As mentioned above, our bison, on our deeded and federally leased lands, will be subject to all federal rangeland health regulations.

Sarah Swanson PARTRIDGE: BLM grazing leases prohibit private cattle ranchers from removing interior fences. Why does APR believe they should receive preferential treatment to be allowed to remove interior fences for bison grazing?

APR: We cannot speak to BLM regulations but are not aware of such prohibitions. Like all livestock mangers, we have asked to manage the bison in a way that we believe will best fit with our operations. The BLM will decide if our request is within their regulations and can be allowed or not.

Sarah Swanson PARTRIDGE: What is the APR's total target acreage for this project (currently, and upon completion)?

APR: We seek to purchase approximately 500,000 private acres that glue together a complex of state and federal public lands to create a roughly 3- to 3.5-million-acre landscape where wildlife can flourish and people may have access to and enjoy the prairie ecosystem. We currently own 65,000 acres and lease from the state and BLM about 240,000 more.

Sarah Swanson PARTRIDGE: Does APR commit to maintaining private ownership of the reserve to ensure a steady property tax revenue for the county governments?

APR: Thank you for recognizing our payment of property taxes and our financial contribution to the counties in which we own property. We plan to operate as a private organization in perpetuity.

Next week: Look for a closer examination of APR positions explored thus far in our series. The Courier is soliciting suggestions for questioners from the public for inclusion in future installments. To put names/questions forward, please contact us at


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