The Time for Year-Round Bison Habitat in Montana is Now
Posted September 12, 2013 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places
Wild bison in Yellowstone National Park
The State of Montana has proposed giving wild bison from Yellowstone National Park access to year-round habitat in Montana. Immensely needed and long overdue, year-round habitat for bison makes sense from all angles of consideration and is a great opportunity for Montana.
With a history of wild bison being hazed, rounded up, and sometimes slaughtered for leaving snow-covered Yellowstone in the spring and entering Montana to eat fresh grass at lower elevations, bison management has been an expensive, controversial, gridlocked ordeal.
But several recent developments have cracked open the issue and provided a path forward. That path is significant year-round bison habitat in Montana outside Yellowstone National Park.
As the State said in its recently released Draft Environmental Assessment, there have been several big changes since 2000, the year the management framework for Yellowstone bison was implemented. Some of the changes – which led to this landmark proposal – include:
- Cattle are no longer found on the Horse Butte peninsula west of Yellowstone;
- The U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment on Horse Butte has been permanently retired;
- Cattle no longer graze on Forest Service allotments in the Taylor Fork;
- Significant, sensible, livestock-producer-friendly changes were made in 2010 to the federal rules that govern the response to brucellosis infection of cattle;
- Agreement among the federal-state-tribal management partners that research suggests little risk of brucellosis transmission from bull bison to domestic cattle; and
- The development and release of consensus recommendations on how bison management could be improved by the Yellowstone Bison Citizens Working Group.
As I wrote last summer, these developments are game-changing events, and it’s encouraging to see the federal-state-tribal managers respond to these changes and propose a significant increase in available habitat for bison outside Yellowstone National Park.
But now it’s time to implement the proposal for year-round bison habitat in Montana and make it a reality.
The management of Yellowstone’s wild bison population has two stated goals: (1) conserve a wild, free-roaming bison population and (2) minimize the risk of brucellosis transmission from bison to cattle. The Draft EA clearly states that with year-round habitat in Montana the risk of brucellosis transmission is not expected to measurably increase.
Providing year-round tolerance for wild bison outside Yellowstone is not choosing one of the goals at the expense of the other; it is merely updating (adapting) the management to keep up with the various changes. It's a win-win step forward for Montana.
An issue that has given Montana a black eye is now a great opportunity for the state. With wild bison come myriad ecological and economic benefits. Year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana makes sense, which is why a diverse group of Montana citizens representing various interests joined together and uniformly recommended year-round tolerance for wild bison outside Yellowstone National Park.
It’s now time for the State of Montana to listen to those consensus recommendations and act on implementing significant year-round tolerance for wild bison in Montana.
In light of all of these changes and the Citizens Working Group’s consensus recommendations, anything less would be a step backwards for bison management.
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