Montana's Bison Burden
Montana has a rising wave of conservationists from near and far choking the interests of our state’s historical and economical foundation. Squeezing slowly, our governor, the American Prairie Reserve and Bureau of Land Management have tightened their grip, choosing the health of bison population over the well-being of one our state’s most important contributors, our farmers and ranchers. The BLM’s recent prefatory approval given to the APR regarding grazing permits for bison is a scary foreshadowing of further decline of the use of private and public lands.
The APR is a private organization with millions of dollars at its hands from donations given by people from all around the nation - not a reflection of sole Montana interest. They currently handle about 600 bison and would like to get that number to an astonishing 10,000. The permits given to the APR were previously used for cattle grazing. This would be almost a non-issue if it was a private landowner wanting to raise a few bison; the negative impact would be much smaller. However, they hope to set up a free-roaming bison utopia in Montana. This directly affects eastern Montana and can not be tolerated for the sake of our ranchers. In an hierarchy of needs, the needs of humans unquestionably outweighs those of animals. We can all appreciate the goodwill of wanting to preserve and flourish the bison community but to soak up so much public land for the existence of bison over the rancher’s cattle is egregious. Without caution, they have also been approved for the removal of fencing on their Flat Creek allotment located in Phillips County. Furthermore, bison and cattle do not mix.
Brucellosis, a disease common among bison, if spread to cattle, would be devastating to a herd and the economic success of a rancher. Brucellosis aborts unborn calves in infected cattle. The governor, Steve Bullock, because of an overpopulation issue in Yellowstone National Park recently approved the importation of bison into Montana. It is estimated that over 50 percent of those bison have come into contact with brucellosis. His short-sightedness does not fit into the vision of Montana that its people possess. Letters of discontentment have been written at a high volume. The Montana Farm Bureau submitted a letter of complaint along with over 100 other Montanans to the BLM.
The burden reaches further. Wild bison are not classified as livestock. As deemed wildlife, they carry unwanted liabilities. Livestock will be transferred off of someone’s private land if they migrate there unwanted. Damage done by livestock to a farmer or rancher’s land is also reimbursed by the state, not paid for from the victim’s pocket. To have free-roaming 2,000 pound beasts possibly tear up land or fences at the expense of the landowner is not right.
Montana must be willing to stand up to these actions which degrade farmers’ and ranchers’ ability for a prosperous livelihood. Yellowstone National Park is federal land and should be treated as a federal problem. We can not allow the dumping of this issue onto our state. If overpopulation issues have arisen there because of mismanagement, it is possible we may eventually have overpopulation issues here as well. We should not break the backs of Montanans to appease conservationists’ wishes. However, our backbone is strong. This upcoming election year will prove to be vital to the outcome of this affair. We must elect leadership in the legislature that represents a more complete picture of what Montanans desire and elect a governor who will not veto legislation that blocks the eradication of Montana’s bison burden.
Glasgow’s Michael Burns is a candidate for Montana’s 33rd District State Representative seat.