MT Senator: Everyone should comment on bison plan
September 4, 2015
September 11 is a memorable date. Montana residents might have more to remember about that day than the terrorist attacks 14 years ago.
The comment deadline for the statewide Montana bison management plan is Sept. 11, 2015, and state Senator Taylor Brown (R-Dist 28) said it signals the culmination of three years worth of work on the subject of whether or not his state should own its own herd.
But it's not just a "yes" or "no" question. There is the "how" and the "where" and the "who" that must be answered.
The chairman of the senate ag committee for two years running, Brown strongly encourages everyone in Montana to comment.
He supports alternative 1- the "No Action" plan where the current Yellowstone bison management would continue as is, and the state would not introduce a new herd. The Environmental Impact Statement and alternatives were prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Some people assume the discussion centers around management of the current Yellowstone bison who wander across park boundaries and into the state of Montana from time to time, often times bringing with them dreaded brucellosis bacteria.
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The issue at hand, according to Brown, is whether or not the state of Montana should own its own herd of bison – separate from the Yellowstone animals.
Brown and more than 20 others have spent the last three years as members of a governor-appointed working group, charged with developing acceptable guidelines for a potential Montana bison herd.
The group determined that some kind of a boundary would be needed to ensure that any state-owned buffalo would not become a public nuisance. But the fourth and last alternative, "Restoration of a Publicly Managed Bison Herd on a Large Landscape where there are Minimal Conflicts with Livestock," could leave the door open to a herd of buffalo being introduced into the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, located in northeastern Montana.
The refuge, Brown explains, is not a feasible location to maintain a herd of buffalo, as there is no physical boundary for the federally-managed property.
"It is really rough country that is managed specifically to avoid fencing. The deer, antelope and elk can go in and out of the refuge easily."
Brown said that while the scenic river breaks present a challenge for people who wish to travel, there is nothing to stop wildlife from regularly crossing back and forth across the boundary that exists only on a map.
"Its not a well-managed productive forage area. There is good forage and nice hay meadows but they are outside the fence. That is where the deer, elk and and antelope go to graze and that is where the buffalo will want to go." Brown added that the river freezes over in the winter, providing another easy traveling method for wildlife.
As a rancher himself, whose family outfit is in the vicinity of the game refuge, Brown's concern for private property rights of his fellow Montanans is significant. "I don't care if someone wants to raise llamas or ostriches on their property – I respect anyone's right to use property as they want. But when it becomes my problem – or other property owners' problem – because they aren't containing them, then I get concerned."
As a state senator, the state's budget is always top-of-mind and Brown points out that a herd of big, hairy mammals could come with a big, hairy price tag.
"A big part of this story is responsibility – whose responsibility will they be?"
Of the four alternatives offered, three call for "restoration of a publicly-managed bison herd." That language is misleading, Brown said, because the state of Montana has never managed a herd of buffalo.
Brown said that about 10,000 head of buffalo currently live within his state's borders – owned by about 80 different entities – mostly private. "Do we need one more bison herd? Maybe we do but we need to weigh the costs versus the benefits."
Brown hopes Montana residents will take the time to comment. "We are the ones who will be affected. We need to be sure our comments aren't outnumbered by those people from out of state who are just looking at this on a map."
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