The American Prairie Reserve, an out of state, internationally funded, non-profit organization, has come to Montana requesting the successful infrastructure of generations of conservationists be torn down so they can build the largest natural reserve in the United States through the purchase of approximately 500,000 acres of private lands, which can then be joined with three million acres of existing public land (state and BLM) to create a wildlife complex for tourism and conservation. “They are proudly promoting this as the “The American Serengeti.” (Rebecca Colnar, Tri-State Livestock News, February 21, 2019).
Currently, the APR controls private properties tied to 18 BLM grazing allotments in Chouteau, Fergus, Petroleum, Phillips and Valley counties. The APR submitted a proposal to the BLM on these allotments to change the class of livestock from cattle to bison; allow for season-long grazing; fortify existing external boundary fences by replacing the second strand from the top with an
electrified wire; and remove interior fences on all 18 permits. (BLM, Department of Interior) The Montana Legislature, concerned about negative impacts the APR’s proposal will have on our public lands and the surrounding communities, passed House Joint Resolution 28 urging the BLM to deny the APR’s bison grazing proposal. In a March 27th article in the Chronicle, APR supporters stated that, HJR 28, attacks their private property rights. Not True. HJR 28 addresses only the APR’s proposal for the 18 BLM grazing allotments which are public property. As a BLM lease holder, APR has the right to request changes in use on leased BLM land; however, the APR’s proposal will fundamentally shift long-established grazing practices on these allotments in two critical ways.
First, the change from cattle to bison. Not a problem if the bison are considered as livestock and the APR manages them according to existing state and federal laws. If the APR bison status is shifted to “Wild Bison,” they would be considered “wildlife” and the APR would not be responsible for managing and operating their bison herd under the same laws and guidelines that livestock growers must follow (vaccination practices, grazing practices, environmental impacts, etc.). The APR would not have to fence in the bison so, their neighbors would bear the cost of damages/fencing to keep bison off private property. House Bill 132, which was passed by the legislature would clarify this issue but was vetoed by the Governor. Landowners are not against bison growers and have taken steps to help protect current and future growers, while holding the APR accountable for their lack of responsibility and management (Ordinances in Valley and Fergus Counties by Conservation Districts aided by current bison growers).
Secondly, the APR’s desire for grazing year-round and removal of interior fences means there is no rotational grazing. When Ted Turner bought the Flying D Ranch south of Bozeman, he removed interior fences on 120,000 acres of his own private property with the idea of running free roaming bison. Five years later the bison were “severely overgrazing portions of the ranch. Today, the Flying D is, divided into 8 large pastures” (bisoncentral.com 2016 The Bison Producers Handbook pdf.). It is “the BLM’s responsibility to ensure the future vitality of these public parcels is protected” (HJR 28). The BLM land management practices have succeeded for years, and efforts of the APR will destroy an established infrastructure. The changes will affect rural towns and communities and lock up public land. Dan Bartel (HD 29), who sponsored HJR 28, stood up for ranching communities, sportsmen and the public land use rights of all Montanans. If private land owner rights are being infringed upon, it is those that border the properties of the American Prairie Reserve.
Jerry and Lila Beard