The topic of bison and bison management was highly discussed during this year’s Montana Legislative session. With the infamous American Prairie Reserve (APR), based in Bozeman, Mont., gaining a presence in parts of central and eastern Montana, producers and lawmakers across the state have been charged with finding a way to combat the progression of APR’s American Serengeti.
Two bills that were set to impede the APR passed through the Legislature, but where both vetoed by the Governor. HB 332 sponsored by Rep. Joshua Kassmier (R) of Fort Benton, allowed individual counties, by authorization of their county commissioners, to decide whether or not they would accept relocated bison. Governor Bullock vetoed this bill arguing it set a dangerous precedent and gave individual counties too much authority.
The second bill, HB 132 sponsored by Rep. Kenneth Holmlund (R) of Miles City, aimed to clarify the definition of a wild buffalo or wild bison. Under HB 132, a wild buffalo/bison has not been reduced to captivity, has never been subject to the per capita fee and has never been owned by a person. Governor Bullock vetoed this bill as well, stating in his veto letter, “the bill creates more confusion then clarity.”
Grassroots organizations across Montana supported these two bills and were disappointed in their demise. Both bills would have ultimately been positive for producers all over the state.
There was one piece of legislation that addressed bison management, and because it was presented as a resolution, it did not require the Governor’s signature. HJ 28 sponsored by Rep. Dan Bartel of Lewistown, urged the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to deny the APR the year-round grazing permits they requested. The joint resolution passed both houses of the Legislature with relative ease.
“The wording of a resolution carries the same weight as a bill, but the Governor doesn’t have to sign it. I knew he wouldn’t sign it, but I needed it on record that Montana opposed the 18 BLM allotment changes,” Bartel said during an interview, explaining why he creatively choose to sponsor a resolution.
Currently the APR controls ground in 18 BLM grazing allotments located in Fergus, Petroleum, Phillips and Valley Counties, encompassing some 250,000 acres. The APR wants to change the grazing permits on these public lands from seasonal or rotational to year-round. Additionally, the APR wants to remove all the interior fences on the permits, so their bison could roam free.
The APR markets themselves as an environmentally conscious organization with the best of intentions for the locals and local economy in mind, however they continue to prove otherwise. Privately funded, the APR wants to see, in their opinion, the landscape restored to a state similar to the one Lewis and Clark would have witnessed on their travels.
“This resolution is asking the BLM to follow the Taylor Grazing Act and the Federal Land and Policy Management Act. If they follow the law, then the BLM cannot allow year-round grazing or the removal of interior fences,” explained Bartel.
Bartel pointed out that the current grazing plans for this area of Montana are based on 60 plus years of rangeland research, and so far, it has worked. Standing by the saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” Bartel is challenging the BLM to uphold the APR to the same standards Montana cattle producers are held to.
“If the American Prairie Reserve doesn’t like the law then change it. Don’t use administrative rule to give a work-around of the law, and that’s what they are doing,” Bartel stated.
With a strong contingency of support and help from the “Save the Cowboy” campaign, HJ 28 continues to put pressure on the APR. Although in its early stages, Bartel is hopeful that the outcome of this resolution will be positive for producers all across Montana.
Next the resolution must be sent on to the U.S. Congress, Department of the Interior, BLM and ultimately the President of the United States. Those parties will look it over and then Bartel will be required to write a response.
“We are going to keep pushing forward to make sure the voices of agriculture and the voices of ranchers are heard,” Bartel said.