Governor, AG, stockgrowers association aren’t using science while ignoring public opinion

September 26, 2022 4:06 am

A bison herd near Sun Prairie, Montana on the American Prairie Reserve. (Photography by Gib Meyers; courtesy of American Prairie Reserve)

Montana’s governor, attorney general and Montana Stockgrowers Association seem resolute on circumventing the will of the American people as well as the residents of Montana.

Whether intentional or not, that’s exactly what they’re doing by appealing the Bureau of Land Management’s  decision to graze bison on public land, a request made by American Prairie. BLM’s decision was reached after listening to public testimony via hearings and comment periods, both of which garnered a wide range of support for bison to graze on endemic public land. The Gallatin Wildlife Association was one of those organizations which provided testimony in support of such action.

Now, because local anti-bison landowners and their political supporters didn’t get their way, they’re trying to upend the will of the majority. This is a story that is becoming all too common across our country, the vocal minority wanting to control the all-too often vast silent majority. These federal public lands belong to all Americans, both those who live inside and outside the state of Montana.

The arguments promoting bison on BLM land are based on scientific evidence which indicates bison grazing is more beneficial to the ecological diversity, integrity and ecosystem resiliency than cattle grazing. Details of such science are available on the Gallatin Wildlife Association’s website. We applaud BLM for listening to the science and to the public. It isn’t often we get a chance to say that, but BLM made the right decision and they should be applauded for it. 

The danger of politicians overriding a well-supported decision is that it undermines a basic principle of governance, listening and representing the will of the people. Instead, this kind of behavior reinforces the public perception that their voice doesn’t matter, that they’re being ignored and that their government doesn’t work for them. 

In a recent newspaper article, an attorney for the Montana Stockgrowers Association made this statement: “She added that federal laws “do not grant any power to issue grazing permits for anything other than domestic livestock.”

This is simply untrue.

In BLM’s prepared document HiLine Proposed Resource Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement of June 2015, it specifically states the following: The BLM is responsible for administering livestock grazing on BLM lands in the planning area. Livestock grazing can include the grazing of cattle, sheep, horses, goats, and bison.”

In addition to that, in the same document, there is a section: “How will bison be managed?” It states:

“The grazing regulations provide for authorizing grazing permits for privately owned indigenous animals. The BLM has permitted two allotments in south Phillips County for bison. The BLM has also permitted bison on allotments in other areas of Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Any future proposals to change the class of livestock from cattle to bison would be considered as provided by the grazing regulations.”


Those opposing bison grazing also argue that the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 doesn’t provide for bison grazing on public land. That false belief is answered in the Notice of Final Decision letter dated July 28, 2022 by the BLM Field Manager of the Malta Field Office in which he states:

“The issue of whether bison may qualify as “livestock” for which grazing permits may be issued under the TGA was addressed by the Department of the Interior through the Office of Hearings and Appeals Administrative Law Judge Harvey C. Sweitzer in a Decision issued on September 25, 1976, in the case of Hampton Sheep Co. v. Bureau of Land Management, Docket No. Wyoming 1-71-1. That Decision recognized that bison or other animals, which would ordinarily be categorized as wildlife, may be considered ‘livestock’ for purposes of issuing grazing permits under the TGA when they are treated in substantial respects as livestock and have characteristics in common with livestock.” 


In 2022, let’s stop spreading fears and misrepresentations. Bison are not the enemy of the livestock industry. It’s time to restore science and biodiversity to our rangeland management policy. The science and the public demand it. This iconic species, our national mammal, deserves to exist on its ancestral land. 

Nagel wrote this piece on behalf of the Gallatin Wildlife Association. He serves as that association’s president.

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