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

By James Walling
The Courier 

A Vague Hypothesis:

APR, BLM and FWP Produce Scant Research on Bison Release Efforts


It has been more than a month since the Courier first asked the American Prairie Reserve's Hilary Parker for evidence of site-specific research related to "free-roaming" bison release efforts in Northeastern Montana.

The best answer we've received to date has been a vague, "We base our decisions on modern scientific research and the data it provides," from APR lead scientist Dr. Kyran Kunkel. If true, the statement hasn't been followed by any relevant research or data.

Phrases like "free-roaming" and "year-round" are seemingly synonymous with APR's stated longterm goal of establishing 10,000 bison with the freedom to migrate on 3.2 million acres of land in this region. The removal of interior fencing is a key aspect of APR's grasslands restoration project, and represents a break with most modern livestock management practices.

"Fencing is management," explains local rancher Rose Stoneberg, regarding interior fencing intended to enforce healthy grazing practices and other concerns. By all accounts, her opinion represents a virtual consensus among area ranchers.

On Oct. 20, Parker responded to follow-up efforts by saying, "Our bottom line is this: Our bison are livestock, and year-round livestock grazing has been studied extensively. The BLM [Bureau of Land Management] has many allotments which have been grazed year-round for years. We've requested a copy of our BLM studies, and will gladly forward those results when we are given access, so you can take a look."

The BLM's Malta Field Manager Vinita Shea told the Courier on Oct. 20, "I am not aware of research regarding removal of interior fencing. It is not a management policy with regard to bison in Phillips County."

Despite a lack of site-specific research from the APR or state agencies, the BLM has approved the practice of interior fencing removal on APR-controlled lands in Phillips County. Internal BLM documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act filing describe the APF's [sic] practice as "an experimental endeavor" as recently as 2008.

Pressed further on whether APR practices are scheduled for any kind of review, Shea responded, "There are no plans to specifically reassess BLM's approval of the interior fencing removal [...]."

According to BLM's Glasgow Field Manager Pat Gunderson, the practice has not been approved in Valley County.

Last week, Lauri Hanauska-Brown of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks confirmed that despite a series of public hearings on the subject of bison release over the course of many years, no site-specific research has been conducted or commissioned by her organization as they attempt to chart a path forward in Phillips, Roosevelt and Valley counties.

With an absence of relevant science or scientifically-informed management strategies, the APR and state agencies may find alleviating the concerns of area residents about the organization's experimental plans in the region to be challenging or even close to impossible.

One question for the APR that many Courier readers would like to see answered can be summed up in the words of nine-year-old Zora Holt, granddaughter to Rose. In contributing to a series of as-yet unanswered questions posed by her mother Sierra via the Courier on Sept. 17, the young resident of Horse Ranch asked Parker and the APR the following: "Do you even realize what you're doing?"

Asked by her mom if there was anything else, Zora responded, "No, just a lot of stuff I'd like to tell them."


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