Resolving to stand strong: Montana legislators’ bison resolution could affect BLM decision
It’s only fair to play by the same rules.
It’s a simple concept, but one the American Prairie Reserve is choosing to ignore as they strive to implement year-around grazing – something that has long been proven to be detrimental to the rangeland. Their mission is to place free-roaming bison on federal land in central Montana. Cattle and sheep ranchers who lease federal land are not allowed year-around grazing and science has proven the benefit of rotational and season grazing.
That is why Montana legislator Dan Bartel, a businessman from Lewistown, pushed a joint resolution through the Montana Legislature this past year requesting denial of the APR’s grazing permits on BLM land. The resolution passed both houses by a significant margin, even gaining bi-partisan support in the Senate.
“We are asking the BLM to deny the APR the ability to alter their 18 grazing allotments into year-around grazing of bison and remove interior fences and barriers,” says Bartel. “Current laws are in place to prohibit this – the Taylor Grazing Act and the Land Use Management Plan ratified by Congress state the BLM has to follow range management plans proven effective over the past 80 years. This is already the law. We are simply providing strong clarification by the Montana legislature.”
With a Montana governor whose veto actions seem to support the American Prairie Reserve – Governor Steve Bullock put the red ink on two other bison-limiting bills this session – the likelihood of a bill being signed was unlikely. So Bartel and his supporters choose to draft a resolution instead as they felt it would be more effective in having their voice heard by the BLM. Although a passed resolution does not create a law or ruling, it does become an official document signed by the Montana Secretary of State defining consensus of the Montana legislature. This statement of opinion is then passed along to state and federal departments affected by the opinion – in this case the BLM.
The process was effective. In June, Chuck Denowh, policy director of United Property Owners of Montana, a grassroots organization based in the heart of APR activity and known for their slogan: “Save the Cowboy: Stop the American Prairie Reserve,” hand-delivered a signed copy of the resolution to the acting secretary of the BLM in Washington, D.C.
Deanna Robbins is a rancher in Roy, Mont., and one of the founders of UPOM, which drafted the resolution Bartel carried. For over 12 years they have been working to protect ranchers in central Montana who would be harmed if “wild” bison were placed there and allowed to roam.
She says the resolution is a statement of the voice of the legislature and the state. “They are our representatives that passed this, so in effect it’s the voice of the people of Montana telling the BLM we do not want free roaming bison. We don’t want grazing districts changed. We don’t want fences taken out. We don’t want an exception granted to the best practices ranchers have worked for generations to implement.”
The BLM will consider the resolution along with comments submitted during the public comment period. Although there is not a set time frame for a decision, Robbins says it is likely their decision will involve one of three things: “They will declare a Finding of No Significant Impact; they will require further assessment and request an environmental impact statement; or they will state the request is in enough violation of the Taylor Grazing Act that it won’t go anywhere.”
UPOM recently held a fundraiser both to grow the coffers needed if additional action is required against the out-of-state interest group, and to build a sense of community among those impacted by the APR. Robbins says she is pleased with the involvement the ag community has taken statewide on the issue.
“I’m really proud of our people; we’re starting to see more people step up, pay more attention and do their due diligence in protecting our industry,” Robbins says.
“In agriculture we’ve learned we have to be involved in the process. We’ve been beaten at that game for awhile and over time we start to lose things and don’t really realize it. With this issue we’ve become more involved in the process of protecting what is important to us, which is our land, our families and our way of life.”