Commentary

Why American Prairie Reserve plans are good for Montana

September 14, 2021 4:27 am

Bison calves being moved at the American Prairie Reserve (Photo courtesy of the American Prairie Reserve).

Lately, deliberate misrepresentations have been circulating regarding American Prairie’s proposal to graze bison on six federal allotments in Phillips County. While most Montanans who have commented thus far clearly welcome our proposal, some remain committed to a misinformation campaign based on rumors and misdirection. This only serves to perpetuate divisions and erode our civic fabric. As such, I am compelled to set the record straight.

The Bureau of Land Management can issue grazing permits or leases and modify existing permits to substitute many different types of livestock for cattle, including bison. It has done this for decades in several states across the West.

In July 2021, the BLM released a detailed analysis of American Prairie’s change of use proposal. This comprehensive Environmental Assessment demonstrates that our grazing plan for our privately-owned bison will build a resilient prairie landscape, preserve our lands for public benefit, and contribute to Montana’s economy– all without harming Montana’s ranching community. The BLM’s “Finding of No Significant Impact” came after considerable analysis and public comment, including four in-person meetings in Winnett, Winifred, Malta and Glasgow.

The environmental analysis highlights how American Prairie’s bison grazing plan will support the prairie ecosystem, enhancing these lands so the public will be able to enjoy them and the wildlife they support for generations. For example, the analysis concludes that “at-risk riparian areas could experience improvement” under the bison grazing plan because “bison will select higher elevations for grazing.” This will prevent overgrazing, conserve soil, and increase species diversity.

Likewise, the environmental analysis expects the plan to “decrease wildlife habitat fragmentation.” This will “improve big game migration and also improve habitat for special status species, such as Greater Sage-Grouse, that rely on large and contiguous areas of habitat to support home ranges and/or migration routes.” By creating wildlife corridors, our plan will maintain the health of species that call the prairie home, benefiting our entire community.

Some wonder how our privately-owned bison grazing plans will impact neighboring ranchers. The analysis states clearly that our proposal “would not impact traditional ranching and existing livelihoods within the project area.” Others worry that bison will escape onto nearby private lands. Our plans “provide for the secure containment of bison with designated pastures and adequate separation from adjacent allotments.” In addition, we have more than a decade of experience managing bison and the staff and resources to ensure this goes well. Our recent settlement agreement with the Phillips County Conservation District attests to our desire to cooperate with our neighboring cattle ranchers.

As the environmental analysis describes, American Prairie’s proposal offers economic benefits as well. According to the EA, “Implementation of the proposed change in use would result in a gain of the equivalent of four full-time jobs at the (Phillips) county level.”

We’re excited to see how it helps our ecosystem and community thrive.

American Prairie’s plans are consistent with federal law and agency regulations. To suggest otherwise is to engage in wishful thinking, unmoored from decades of legal and regulatory precedent. Like other property owners, we are exercising our property rights that come with the purchase of land. The continued attack on our property rights, by an organization claiming to be their defender, is at best curious and at worst deeply hypocritical and dangerous.

Pete Geddes is Vice President & Chief External Relations Officer for American Prairie

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.