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

By Mark Hebert
For The Courier 

Zinke Visits Malta, Talks Bison


Mark Hebert / For The Courier

Congressman Ryan Zinke spoke at Malta High School Auditorium on Jan. 20.

Over 100 Phillips County residents showed up at the Malta High School Auditorium last Wednesday in Malta to hear U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., speak, before he was asked a handful of questions, most pertaining to a recent decision by the Bureau of Land Management to allow the American Prairie Reserve to graze bison on the Flat Creek Allotment in Phillips County.

"Today we are here about the BLM and I'm sure about bison," Zinke told the crowd after a 10-minute introduction. "The local BLM is different than (Washington) D.C. If you go talk to your local BLM or local forester, a lot of them are frustrated too. A lot of the authority was taken out of their hands and up into the region or to D.C."

Zinke told of a recent conversation with the BLM Director Neil Kornze in Zinke's D.C. office where the topic was sage grouse. Zinke said the two men agreed that the sage grouse population in the U.S. is not as vast as it once was. The topic then turned to why Director Kornze thought the bird's numbers are down in Montana.

"Without even a blink of an eye, he said 'oil and gas exploration'," Zinke said.

Zinke explained to Kornze that the State of Montana only has one active oil derrick thus ruling out the oil and gas theory. Kornze then suggested that the low sage grouse numbers are possibly attributed to the many natural predators the birds have in the Treasure State, then wildfire and even the idea that when the wind blows in a certain direction, and juniper trees are shaken, it "disrupts the mating pattern and ritual of the sage grouse."

"I didn't know," Zinke quipped. "But what I do know is that past Butte, there are no juniper trees and it is not an issue in Montana."

Zinke said he is a Teddy Roosevelt Conservationist and a former Boy Scout of America and what he learned from the latter was that when you exit a campground you leave it in the same condition you found it, if not better.

"We want to make sure that in Montana, our legacy is left to our sons or daughters and generations to come," he said. "We are all conservationists in this room, so tell me what a healthy sage grouse population looks like. Tell me when we know we are there, how many sage grouse should we have and what does a healthy population look like? You know what? They won't tell you. It is not about the sage grouse, it's about control."

Zinke said that he believes that President Barack Obama will soon declare the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge to be a monument. Zinke said he is all for monuments in Montana, within reason.

"You want to save a small part of Montana for future generations, I agree," he said. "But a monument is not a land-grab ... I understand your frustration and I am frustrated too. We have an appeal process now and I will do everything in my power to ensure your voices are heard."

As far as the recent BLM decision in Phillips County and the APR, Zinke said he needs to look at what can and can't be done legally and said because of the size and scale of the issue, an Environmental Impact Statement seems reasonable.

"My experience with buffalo, and I don't have a lot, but buffalo tend to go where buffalo want to go," Zinke said. "Buffalo are going to where there is food."

A member of the audience said that one of his biggest concerns is that Phillips County will someday be turned into a National Park. He said that in Yellowstone Park in the 1970s, a herd of about 500 bison which were left unchecked, have grown to 5,000 and are now leaving the park.

"In the next generation, if this continues the way it is in Phillips County, the problem isn't going to be just in South Phillips County," said the audience member. "It's going to be across the river, it's going to be in North Phillips County, Valley County, it's going to this particular instance, their goal is to have 10,000 bison by 2030."

"It's probably a well-intentioned, bad idea," Zinke answered. "The grey wolf was a well-intended, really, really bad idea and it was the wrong wolf ... I can list a lot of well-intentioned ideas that are just bad."


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