The Buffalo Commons is coming… to Montana. Along the upper Missouri west of the Fort Peck Dam, where 19th-century homesteading mostly failed because to was too far to market for what meager crops would grow, wealthy conservationists under the umbrella of American Prairie are working on buying up half a million acres of private land to connect scattered public lands into one big nature preserve—3.2 million acres, 5,000 square miles. That’s the land equivalent of Sully, Hughes, Stanley, and Lyman counties in South Dakota plus a little chunk of northeastern Jones County. That’s also the amount of land biologists say is needed to support a fully functioning and diverse prairie ecosystem.
Last month, the Bureau of Land Management approved one key part of the American Prairie plan, allowing American Prairie to graze bison on six allotments in Phillips County, north of the Missouri River. Growers of the invasive and ill-suited Bos taurus protest this direction of government favors to interests other than their own:
Parri Jacobs, a Malta area rancher, believes that the BLM is violating the very purpose of the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act which established rules for grazing on federal lands.
“Preference shall be given in the issuance of grazing permits to those within or near a district who are landowners engaged in the livestock business, bona fide occupants or settlers, or owners of water or water rights, as may be necessary to permit the proper use of lands, water or water rights owned, occupied, or leased by them,” says the Taylor Grazing Act in section 315b.
“We don’t believe the BLM is following their own rules. The Taylor Grazing Act wasn’t put in place to allow a conservation bison herd. It was meant for food production, which is agriculture,” said Jacobs.
The American Prairie on its website discusses bison under the “wildlife restoration” segment and does not seem to have interest in raising bison as livestock or as a livestock business.
Jacobs said that there is a “mixed bag of scientific evidence about whether brucellosis is transmissible from bison to cattle,” but she said elk wander through the area and are known to be transmitters, so brucellosis from the bison is a concern to her. She also doesn’t want the threat of brucellosis to cause her community to become a “designated surveillance like some counties around Yellowstone, because ranchers in those areas deal with severe restrictions and testing in order to move cattle in and out of the area.
Lastly, Jacobs is worried that bison will replace cattle on additional grazing permits on federal land.
“It’s definitely a slippery slope. If they allow this, what is next? How much further is it going to go? It could be a runaway freight train, for sure,” she said [“BLM Approves Bison Grazing on 63,500 Acres in Montana,” The Fence Post, 2022.08.03].
Yeah, because if land isn’t making money, it’s not worth a darn. The meat-industrial complex complains that taking 6% of Montana’s grazing land out of beef production will reduce agricultural productivity by $2.8 million a year. And Montana Republican poobahs are deriding the proposal as radical zoophilia:
Gov. Greg Gianforte questioned whether BLM has “statutory authority” to enact the proposal In an emailed statement. In a tweet, Sen. Steve Daines called the approval “completely unreasonable” and representative of the Biden administration “ignoring input from [Montana] ranchers.” Daines said he will work with Gianforte’s office in the coming weeks to review the decision.
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen also criticized BLM’s approval process in an emailed statement.
“After shutting out public input from local communities, it’s not a surprise that President Biden’s Bureau of Land Management would rubber-stamp this radical proposal that is another step toward displacing northeast Montana’s livestock industry and replacing it with a large outdoor zoo,” Knudsen said [Amanda Eggert, “BLM Approves American Prairie Reserve’s Bison Grazing Proposal,” Montana Free Press, 2022.07.29].
Opponents of the BLM’s modification of its grazing permits for American Prairie’s bison have until August 27 to file appeals with the Bureau.