Stockgrowers make bison management top priority
On Jan. 18 and 19, the Board of Directors of the Montana Stockgrowers Association met in Helena to discuss program, issue, and policy priorities for the upcoming year.
"The mission of our association is to protect and enhance Montana ranch families' ability to grow and deliver safe, healthy, environmentally wholesome beef to the world," said Watty Taylor, MSGA president. "Our board reinforced a long standing belief of our association that private property rights provide a foundation for everything we do as ranchers and at MSGA."
The Board of Directors discussed the estate tax, eminent domain, wolves, and water as important issues for the year. But the bulk of the conversation was spent on the topic of bison management.
"Bison management, specifically in regards to the recent decision from Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to translocate quarantined bison to Fort Peck and Fort Belknap tribes, as well as a decision to allow more tolerance for bison coming out of Yellowstone National Park into the Gardiner Basin, has been a important issue for us and will continue to be in 2012," Taylor said. "We have ongoing concerns about private property rights, the spread of brucellosis, and public safety."
Both the translocation and Gardiner Basin decisions are subject to lawsuits filed by local ranchers. "We support the efforts of these folks to ensure that the law is followed and private property rights are protected," Taylor said.
MSGA worked very hard in the 2011 Legislature to ensure the passage of Senate Bill 212, which requires FWP to adopt a management plan before bison are translocated anywhere in the state of Montana. The bill includes many stipulations to be included in the plan. This bill was signed by the Governor and is now state law in 87-1-216 MCA.
"In policy set at our Annual Convention this past December, our members were very clear about their desire to see SB 212 followed," Taylor said. "This policy declares that MSGA opposes bison relocation, but should the state decide to proceed with a relocation proposal, it should adequately reflect the intent of SB 212."
MSGA members also expressed the opinion that bison relocation should not include private lands without the landowner's permission; before relocation, FWP must develop and adopt a comprehensive management plan entirely consistent with SB 212; and no diseased bison should be relocated anywhere in Montana.
MSGA participated in all FWP listening sessions to speak to this issue and provided extensive written comments. "The time frame for the current relocation plan seems to be happening very quickly with no collaboration with the ranching community," Taylor said. "The statewide conservation strategy for bison is not projected to be finished until the end of 2015. This strategy needs to be completed before we even consider relocating bison. We also think that given the significant nature of this proposal it should go through a full Environmental Impact Statement process."
In the early spring of 2011, the partners of the Interagency Bison Management Plan allowed bison to occupy parts of the Gardiner Basin that had previously been off limits to the animals. MSGA sent a letter to the partners asking them to revoke the adaptive management adjustment they made to allow bison in that area. MSGA expressed concerns about the chaos that was witnessed in the area with incomplete fencing and protective barriers to protect cattle in the area as well as private property and travelers on the highway.
"We were especially concerned that the process for these changes was done without input from the local community or nearby ranchers who would be most affected by the decision," Taylor said.
Policy passed at MSGA's Annual Convention in December resolved that "MSGA continue to urge the IBMP partners to rescind their decision to turn potentially diseased bison loose into the Gardiner Basin unless and until they adequately solicit and respond to public input, and adequately address public safety, property damage, disease risk and private landowner permission issues." The policy also stated the MSGA membership's preference that Yellowstone National Park work to establish a population of bison that can be sustained by the resources within the park.
FWP and the Montana Department of Livestock issued a joint Environmental Assessment (EA) on the Gardiner Basin bison tolerance in December of 2011. MSGA submitted written comments on this EA expressing significant concerns about the potential impacts to local land owners.
MSGA has been very active in working on bison issue by regularly attending and commenting at Interagency Bison Management Plan meetings and Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission meetings. MSGA has also been an active participant in the Yellowstone Bison Citizens Working Group, and in legislative discussions regarding bison management, both at the 2011 Legislature and during the interim committee meetings in Helena.
"Our board and our membership understand that the management of bison in Montana is a very complicated issue," Taylor said. "It is incredibly important that ranchers are included in these discussions. No meaningful, lasting progress can be made on this issue without the involvement of the ranching community. MSGA is committed to being active participants in future discussions about bison management to ensure that the ranchers' voices are heard."