Posts Tagged ‘Yellowstone National Park’

Credit: NPS.gov

Credit: NPS.gov

Last week, Montana State Governor Steve Bullock vetoed the remaining two bills that would have threatened the progression of wild bison reinstatement in Montana. Of the fourteen bills originally proposed, three made it through to be approved or vetoed by Gov. Bullock. The first of those three bills was vetoed in April.

The bills were part of a legislative effort to halt Montana’s efforts to restore free-roaming bison in areas around Yellowstone National Park and within the Fort Peck Reservation. The ‘anti-bison’ bills, including one that would have allowed farmers to shoot bison that wandered onto private property, could have derailed bison recovery efforts. Defeating these bills clears the path for ongoing and new bison recovery work, including management of the Fort Peck bison herd.


Defenders of Wildlife


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A new bill that would allow private landowners to shoot and kill bison found on their property is receiving mixed reviews form Montanans and wildlife supporters. The bill was created by Montana Republican legislator Alan Doane, and its main purpose would be to allow private landowners to shoot and kill bison found on their property. It would, by default, challenge elements of the recently overturned lawsuit between Park County Stockgrowers, et al and Montana Department of Livestock, et al.

Proponents of the bill point out that it protects landowners’ rights to manage their property and livestock, and that wild bison are dangerous and disease-ridden. Critics claim that the bill devalues native wildlife, and sets the precedence that killing wild animals is an appropriate solution to land conflicts.


The proposed bill brings up several valid arguments from both parties, those who support the bill and those who oppose it. While disease is an important and potentially devastating threat to ranching, one common criticism of this bill is that it fails to address elk, another wild animal that can transmit brucellosis to cattle. If the bill is primarily aimed at protecting cattle from disease, shouldn’t it account for both bison and elk? Nonetheless, it makes clear the importance of continued brucellosis research. Ranchers have a right and a reason to be worried about their cattle, their livelihood. However, there have been no documented cases of Yellowstone bison transferring brucellosis to cattle, so the weight of the bill’s argument seems unsupported. More research would help both bison advocates and ranchers understand the risks associated with the disease, and allow the two parties to come to an educated agreement regarding bison management.

Property damage is another argument found within the bill. According to residents in the area that the bill affects, bison cause significant damage to fences, land, and other property. They also create other disturbances, from congregating at a school bus stops to harassing horses and other livestock. There is no doubt that bison cause problems and create disruptions for local citizens. In fact, bison have become so disruptive that some residents are likening them to vermin. However, as the judge who dismissed the original lawsuit stated, Montana is a wild place, and those who live in the state must expect and be prepared to share their land and lives with wildlife.

Montana has done an excellent job in setting the precedence that native wildlife, especially bison,  is important. That being said, there are reasonable concerns in this bill that should be addressed, validated, and resolved. The common support of citizens of Montana will be key to the continued and progressive protection of bison. Although this bill is not likely to pass, I am curious to see what the next steps taken are to reach a balance between wildlife advocates and ranchers.


The Wildlife News


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Last week, a Montana judge dismissed the lawsuit filed against supporters of Montana’s Interagency Bison Management (IBMP), effectively permitting bison to roam on a 70,000 acre range outside of Yellowstone National Park boundaries.

The lawsuit was filed by the Park County Stockgrowers Association and the Montana Farm Bureau Federation in response to changes made to the IBMP in 2011, which included an addendum allowing bison to roam outside of park boundaries. The petitioners argued that allowing bison to roam on public and private land outside of the park would expose cattle in the area to brucellosis, a disease that causes cattle to abort their fetuses. Bison living within the park, along with elk and deer in the area, have tested positive for the disease, which can be transmitted to cattle through contact with an infected animal or the infected animal’s fluids.

According to the petitioners, the changes made to the IBMP failed to adhere to the Montana Environmental Policy Act and the Montana Code,  and that the changes violated the petitioners’ “right to a clean and healthful environment.”

Park County Attorney Brett Linneweber was dissapointed with the ruling, claiming that it failed to consider alternatives such as moving bison to Indian reservations. However, last year’s relocation of a herd of bison to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation has drawn heavy criticism from ranchers in the area.

The 78-page ruling, issued by District Judge E. Wayne Phillips, acknowledged the petitioners’ argument that bison pose a threat to people and cattle, but said that such a threat is part of co-existing with Montana’s wildlife. Judge Phillips concluded his report by saying, “In this case there is certainly a large potential of over-abundance of bison . . . That refusal, however, is beyond the purview or jurisdiction of a Montana District Court.”

The petitioners have 60 days to decide whether to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.


Strange Bedfellows Hold Ground for Bison in Montana

Judge Upholds Montana’s Free-Roaming Bison Plan

Complete Ruling

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Eight months after a herd of bison was removed from Yellowstone National Park and introduced to tribal lands, a legal battle over the management of the herd is nearing its end. The dispute began when, just three days after the bison were moved to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northern Montana, a livestock and property rights collective sued the agencies involved with the transfer, claiming the introduction of bison to public grazing lands, and allowance for bison to leave Yellowstone National Park in the winter, would compromise grazing areas and expose cattle to disease.

In the past, management of bison has been restricted to Yellowstone National Park. During winter months, any bison that strayed from park boundaries in search of food were hazed back into the park or killed. The proposed management plan would allow bison to roam outside of park boundaries during the winter, extending the protection of the animals even when they left the park. The plan would also protect the bison introduced to the Fort Peck Reservation from hazing or killing. The collective wants the Fort Peck tribe to purchase the bison, which would classify the bison as livestock and allowing ranchers to take action if they damage property or affect cattle.

Brian Schweitzer, Montana’s governor  has supported the bison management plan, stating the collective is only concerned about increased grazing fees. The bison herds may force ranchers to graze cattle on private lands as public land becomes less available. Permits to graze cattle on private land cost 77 percent more  than public land permits, meaning ranchers could pay $22.00 per head of cattle if bison force their herds onto private lands. “The most vocal opponents are the who’s who of public grazers,” Schweitzer said.

The collective is also concerned about the increased risk of disease. Bison, cattle, and elk are all at risk of contracting a disease known as brucellosis. When contracted, it causes the animals to abort their calves. However, there have been no documented cases of bison spreading the disease to cattle. The five reported cases of brucellosis in cattle in 2007 were found to be caused by elk.

The proposed changed are part of the Interagency Bison Management Plan. According to the plan’s website, the IBMP is a management plan “developed by the National Park Service, USDA-Forest Service, USDA-Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, Montana Department of Livestock, and Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks”. Final testimony and closing arguments of both the collective and the agencies supporting the IBMP were heard on November 5th. District Judge E. Wayne Phillips has until the end of the year to reach a conclusion.


There are other issues taking place here in addition to disease and grazing conflicts. Proponents of the management plan cite the ecological benefits of bison reintroduction as a critical reason to allow the plan to move forward. Bison once roamed the Great Plains by the millions, but in the 1800s they were killed off in record numbers and suddenly faced near-extinction. In addition to being hunted for their meat and hide, they were also exterminated because of a US government initiative to eliminate the Native American’s main food source, forcing the Indians to flee to Canada or starve. By the turn of the century, bison populations in the US had dropped from an estimated 70 million to less than 2,000.

Bison cannot be re-established on the plains in the numbers they once held, but reintroducing bison in manageable numbers could benefit the ecology of their old habitats. Bison support the growth of prairie grasses in a number of ways. They help aerate and fertilize the land, and grass seeds that stick to their hides are spread about as bison roam. Many species, from insects to prairie dogs to birds of prey, benefit from the ecological impact bison herds have on grassland habitats. And because bison were removed from these habitats by humans, as opposed to natural causes, their reintroduction could improve the biodiversity and quality of land in these areas.

The challenge in this case is ultimately one of land management and land use. Ranchers have expanded grazing areas onto old bison ranges thanks to the absence of bison in the wild. These ranchers have become accustomed to grazing cattle on cheaper, public lands, and are also used to grazing herds of a certain size. Adding bison back to the prairies could increase grazing costs for ranchers, and may also force them to reduce cattle numbers as available grazing areas are slashed to make room for bison.

While a ruling in favor of the collective will have a significant and negative impact on the protection and expansion of bison herds in the US, even a ruling in favor of the IBMP and its supporting agencies will not eliminate contention between ranchers and supporters of bison.


Defender’s Blog

New York Times

Bozeman Daily Chronicle 

Interagency Bison Management Plan



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