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

By Ron Stoneberg
Managing Management 

Report: CMR Working Group


I recently attended a meeting of the Charles M. Russell NWR - Community Working Group (CMR-CWG) in Fort Peck. As I was driving home and thinking about all of the brilliant comments I should have made, it struck me that something was very wrong. The more I thought about it, I realized what the problem was.

In my opinion, this working group is a non-governmental entity formed to allow stakeholders to brainstorm ways the surrounding communities could benefit ecologically and economically by working with the CMR---and vise versa. Most of us living around the CMR saw it as a vehicle to have our voices heard. Unfortunately, what I saw and heard at the last meeting was anything but!

The issue of free-ranging bison is very contentious in this area. The CWG decided to form a committee to address bison on the CMR. However, the CMR clearly stated that no bison proof fences would be constructed on the refuge. In addition, the CMR occupies only a relatively narrow strip of land around the reservoir. Therefore, containing free-ranging bison on the refuge is not only impractical but also undoable and that should have been the end of the bison debate. But something else disturbed me even more.

The adjacent stakeholders are used to attending state and federal agencies meetings, submitting comments and being ignored or overwhelmed by out-of-region NGOs. We hoped this working group would be different. Unfortunately it is not! Every adjacent stakeholder at the meeting was unequivocally against free-ranging bison. In addition, four of the surrounding counties have overwhelmingly passed ordinances that would restrict free-ranging bison. I guess the question we are all asking is, ‘what part of NO don’t you understand?’ What this amounts to is that you are telling these adjacent stakeholders that their opinions do not count. It would have been refreshing if, instead of ‘continuing the discussion’, you would have announced that due to a lack of buy-in from the CMR neighbors the bison discussion is off the table.

On a positive note, there is something that could replace the bison committee. Why not form a committee to explore returning cattle back to the CMR. It has been well documented that properly managed cattle herds improve the ecological integrity of an area. The key is for the CMR to use cattle as a tool to assist with attaining their ecological goals. Returning cattle to CMR allotments would also greatly benefit the economic health of the surrounding communities. It’s a win-win and something the adjacent stakeholders would enthusiastically support! I would like to see this suggestion presented at the next CWG meeting.

Ron Stoneberg is a retired FWP biologist and member of a longstanding local ranching family.


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