Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP) Director Martha Williams recently issued the department’s decision on the environmental impact statement (EIS) that moves wild bison restoration planning forward in Montana. It was an ill-advised decision marinated in collusion with the environmental community and is viewed by prairie landowners as just another “let’s stuff buffalo down their throats” campaign.
The director’s decision begs this question from landowners: What part of “hell no” do you not understand?
The underpinning for the MTFWP decision is a bit suspect in that it seems to trample on Montana law that requires bison outside the greater Yellowstone area to be managed and contained as domestic livestock.
Unless the legislature acts to declare bison a wildlife species statewide, which is highly unlikely, it appears MTFWP’s plan can only proceed under the management guidelines established for domestic livestock that include marking the animals, disease monitoring, containment, etc.
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As one would expect, MTFWP’s decision has engendered new apprehensions in prairie country:
- It establishes MTFWP as the lead agency for bison restoration in Montana and installs a collaborative process with wild bison proponents like the American Prairie Reserve (APR), the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge and U.S. Department of the Interior.
- It will enable bison advocates of every stripe to submit restoration proposals for MTFWP to consider and the number of proposals will likely be overwhelming.
- It green lights the CMR Refuge to fulfill its pledge to cooperate with the State of Montana should a decision be made to restore bison as a wildlife species in eastern Montana.
Director Williams’ decision to go forward with bison restoration and kick the can down the road to the next governor is simply wrong. It creates a hostile environment that will result in a boundless battle of wills and endless litigation. It’s a whack-a-mole scenario landowners have experienced before and it’s time for the bison restoration concept to be sent to the dust bin of history.
One should not be surprised to see renewed rural efforts to expand bison ordinances, negative bison easements, county bison resolutions and legislative innovations that address landowner concerns. Locked gates during hunting season and block management withdrawals will also be on the table.
Coming soon will be a significant challenge to the entire suite of bison restoration concepts that are currently in process in Montana. Stay tuned.
Ron Poertner of Winifred is a University of Montana graduate with a degree in wildlife biology and served for six years on the Bureau of Land Management's Resource Advisory Council in Lewistown.