Thursday, June 20, 2024

Bison rewilding plan a vast overreach

by Ron Poertner
| March 12, 2023 12:00 AM

On March 3, Interior Secretary Haaland issued Secretarial Order 3410 that announced the department’s intent to restore wild bison herds in the West. You can bet there was a collective groan amongst western state governorships where Haaland’s bison rewilding plan is expected to be implemented.

While Haaland’s order emphasizes the importance of bison restoration on Tribal lands, it also targets federal lands in western states and calls on wild bison proponents of all stripes, like the American Prairie Reserve, to collaborate in the rewilding effort.

A full assessment of Haaland’s edict for the West will take time, but some conclusions can already be drawn: Order 3410 represents a vast overreach by our federal government and gives short shrift to western state’s concerns and prioritizes bison restoration on Tribal lands; it will also target federal land that farmers and ranchers rely on for their livelihoods. Order 3410 reads like a chapter from the American Prairie Reserve’s playbook that shares Haaland’s spurious claim that bison are essential to restoring native grasslands back to health and bolstering local economies.

The most egregious part of Haaland’s decree is that it came in out of the blue and had zero coordination with county or state governments or landowners.

The CMR National Wildlife Refuge is being groomed by Department of the Interior as a start point for bison rewilding in Montana. Unfortunately, there are a multitude of catalysts available in the federal toolbox that could be used to help shoehorn bison on the CMR. For example, a multimillion acre national monument could be created by a presidential stroke of the pen that would connect the CMR with Canada’s Grasslands National Park, thereby providing for bison migration corridors running north and south.

This is not fantasy; the clandestine Treasured Landscape Initiative developed in 2009-10 contained a proposal to create a 2.5 million acre national monument that would connect the CMR with Canada but was subsequently shelved.

Monuments are often precursors for national park designations and can quickly get legs. American Prairie Reserve President Alyson Fox recently stated during a 60 Minutes TV interview that prairie grasslands have historically been overlooked by Congress for national park designations and she implied that a privately operated wildlife park would be a desirable alternative. All that is needed is to clear the land of farming and ranching and the area qualifies for a federal designation.

Secretary Haaland declares bison as “functionally extinct” and environmentalists have been pushing for years to have bison listed as an endangered species. Couple a bison ESA listing with Haaland’s bison rewilding plan and a perfect storm is created to drive agriculture off the land.

There is something fundamentally wrong when our government is bent on returning huge tracts of public land to the stone age and falsely claims that herds of free roaming bison are needed to repair the health of prairie ecosystems and enhance the economic well-being of the region. If our public lands are in such bad shape and the Bureau of Land Management requires outside help from scurrilous entities to better manage our grasslands, then maybe federal lands should be returned to the states.

And people wonder why a Sage Brush Rebellion occurred in the 1970s and 80s.

Ron Poertner lives in Winifred.