September 16, 2009
Ranchers criticize plans for bison herds at BLM meeting
By KARL PUCKETT
Tribune Staff Writer
HAVRE — Ranching interests sharply criticized a private grassland preserve in northeastern Montana as well as a new federal initiative in which new free-roaming bison herds could be established in the West.
The criticism came Tuesday at a meeting of the Bureau of Land Management's Central Montana Resource Advisory Committee.
The 60,000-acre American Prairie Reserve in Phillips County, launched by the not-for-profit American Prairie Foundation in 2006, includes about 100 bison. The reserve consists of private land and property leased from the BLM for grazing.
In a separate bison project, last year the U.S. Department of the Interior, under the Bush administration, called for federal agencies to coordinate management of existing bison herds on federal land, research bison genetics and disease, and study partnerships to increase existing herds or establish new ones.
Both bison efforts were discussed for 90 minutes Tuesday in Havre, with ranchers and some RAC members raising concerns over the spread of disease, loss of public lands for cattle grazing and lack of local input.
"People shouldn't have to drive five hours to testify for three minutes," Malta rancher Dale Veseth said, adding he believed the meeting should have been conducted in Malta, where most of the people affected by bison live.
Ron Poertner, a RAC member from Winifred, said he did not see any difference between the fenced bison in the private reserve and free-roaming animals that can be introduced under the public conservation initiative.
"We are not anti-cattle," Scott Laird, APF's director of field operations, told the crowd.
The reserve is a grassland conservation project, not a bison project, Laird added. He said APF has worked hard to be a good neighbor and has done a good job managing the bison. Read More
There have been plans even bigger than this that have been tossed around in the past. Years ago, the Buffalo Commons project proposed turning entire states into large bison pastures. The purpose of these projects is never very clear and there are some real concerns. It’s not a matter of population because the bison are no longer threatened with extinction by any means. These projects take land out of food production as well. Ranchers can manage grasslands quite well with cattle and it’s quite insulting and uninformed to suggest that just turning bison out into a pasture is better for the grass than the intensive management ranchers utilize.