Monday, February 26, 2024

A-team ready to take on American Prairie Reserve

by Ron Poertner
| January 22, 2023 12:00 AM

The Lewistown News Argus recently published a front page article on the meeting hosted by the Save the Cowboy group that provided area residents with an update on the efforts that are underway to derail the American Prairie Reserve’s bison restoration plan for northcentral Montana.

What is significant about that meeting is that it represented a coming together of all the key players that are committed to stopping American Prairie Reserve’s plan to stuff an unwanted wildlife park the size of Connecticut in our backyard. Participants at the meeting shared their actions to date in this matter that ranged from the submission of substantive public comments about American Prairie Reserve’s agenda, to protests and legal strategies

underway to overturn BLM’s decision to approve bison grazing on seven APR grazing allotments.

It was clear to everyone at the meeting that a commitment to unity of purpose exists between landowners, farm and ranch organizations, attorneys and elected officials in working together to confront American Prairie Reserve’s stated goal to create an American Serengeti in a 3.2 million acre area that many call home.

The A-Team is in place. It is comprised of multiple farm and ranch organizations too numerous to recount here but includes the Missouri River Stewards, United Property Owners of Montana, Montana Stockgrowers Association, Fergus County Farm Bureau Federation, Phillips County Farm Bureau, and the North and South Phillips County Cooperative State Grazing Districts. The team also includes county commissioners, state officials and legislators. The team’s legal challenges are being handled by attorneys from Karen Budd-Falen and Lund Law firms who are the best in the west in addressing federal land management issues.

Also included are attorneys from the offices of the governor and attorney general who are diligently working to ensure the Bureau of Land Management’s compliance with state and federal grazing laws and regulations on public lands.

The legal arguments that address American Prairie Reserve’s bison grazing proposals have been submitted, but discovery issues continue to be developed that will harden and strengthen the case against APR. The final court decision in this matter will not be anytime soon and will likely require a significant financial commitment by A-Team members to stay the course.

It is also important to remember the context within which the bison restoration effort is centered. The big elephant in the room is Department of the Interior and its undying commitment for more than two decades to restore herds of free roaming bison in the West. For Montana, the CMR National Wildlife Refuge is DOI’s target area for bison restoration and its collaboration with APR’s rewilding effort is patently obvious.

Everyone on the A-Team understands that the final decision in this matter will set a hugely important precedence for bison restoration in the west. The principle that guides this entire effort is embodied in a simple slogan: Save the Cowboy, Stop American Prairie Reserve.

Ron Poertner lives in Winifred.

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