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Decision on bison grazing will set historic precedent

by Ron Poertner
| July 25, 2021 12:00 AM

On July 1, the Bureau of Land Management released for public comment its proposed decision on the American Prairie Reserve’s September 2019 application for 10-year grazing permits for cattle and bison on seven grazing allotments located in Phillips County.

The Bureau’s Environmental Assessment of American Prairie Reserve’s grazing proposal resulted in the finding of no significant impacts and has invited the public to comment on four alternatives, all of which support bison grazing in some form — no small wonder considering American Prairie Reserve is paying a private firm to develop the EA for the Bureau.

There are several other alternatives that should have been developed including one that would deny American Prairie Reserve’s bison grazing privileges on public land, thereby preventing the ability of a lavishly funded nonprofit organization to create a multimillion acre prairie reserve and repurpose the area for rewilding with bison.

The Bureau’s proposed EA decision in this matter is consistent with Department of the Interior’s commitment to restore free roaming bison herds in the west. The Interior has identified the CMR Refuge as a potential bison restoration site and intends to form partnerships with local bison acolytes (i.e. APR) to block up enough adjacent land to support herds of free roaming bison.

This rewilding scenario also has favor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as reflected in a recent statement that beginning July 1, the agency will engage local tribes and stakeholders to begin a planning process to restore bison on the CMR Refuge.

Obviously, there is a huge divide between landowners and wild bison proponents on this issue. The farm and ranch communities view the Bureau’s approval of the bison grazing permits as baby steps on the way to ensuring the success of American Prairie Reserve’s prairie reserve concept, yet the Bureau sees this as nothing more than a livestock grazing issue.

The acid test here is whether any entity should be allowed to repurpose millions of acres of public land for a wildlife reserve and supplant an agricultural based culture and economy. No other bison operator on the planet has an agenda supported by millionaire donors that remotely compares to American Prairie Reserve’s plan for the region.

There is little doubt that the future of American Prairie Reserve’s outrageous goals for north central Montana will be decided in a court of law. The final EA decision will be both historic and precedent setting for the west.

Ron Poertner is a rancher in Winifred.