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Ranchers Unhappy with Decommercialization and Re-Bison-ation of Remote Montana Range

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.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-08-22 07:50

    Every Republican county from Weld in Colorado to Flathead in Montana is at elevated risk of wildland fire today because cattle grazing has failed to control invasive grasses.

    Rewild the West.

  2. John 2022-08-22 08:31

    It’s deliciously ironic that the descendants whom settled on taken tribal lands and killed off the bison, whine about being displaced by bison.
    Those ranchers obviously need more to do, and now via remote work, they are able to have more work.

  3. Edwin Arndt 2022-08-22 09:03

    There is no way to take care of cattle remotely.
    Fer cryin’ out loud get real. Drones will not move cattle
    from pasture to pasture. Robots will not haul hay.
    Robots will not work cattle.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-22 11:01

    I’m not sure cowpoking by drone was what John had in mind, but I’ll let John clarify.

    I will take a moment to point out that Edwin is once again behind the times. Researchers are working on drone applications to ranching. An Israeli company is moving cattle by drone (“’Using a drone, instead of cowboys and dogs, creates a much less stressful environment for the animals, and an animal that is less stressful is a lot healthier and more productive,’ said Noam Azran, CEO of BeeFree Agro, the firm developing the method.”).

    Of course, the argument American Prairie is making is not that we should further technologize beef production. They are trying to restore a small portion of the plains to its prior state of healthy prairie biodiversity while minimizing the impact on private land. Remember, they targeted this land in Montana because it still had a lot of less-disrupted prairie and because they only needed to acquire a little private land to connect land already held by the public. They aren’t trying to get rid of industrial agriculture; they’re just trying to diversify land use to increase conservation.

  5. Edwin Arndt 2022-08-22 12:44

    The drone opened the gate, Cory? A human is operating the drone,
    I presume.

  6. larry kurtz 2022-08-22 13:01

    Because those bison aren’t able to migrate to pastures in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico they’re fed hay through the winter just like at Wind Cave so that feed has to be weed-free and contain sufficient protein. It’s at least as expensive and labor intensive as domestic livestock.

  7. P. Aitch 2022-08-22 14:12

    Pro bison.

  8. All Mammal 2022-08-22 14:43

    I always felt if you can’t manage what you are producing without major artificial and destructive means, then maybe you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.

    If you cannot keep pests and weeds in check by human hands going into the fields and pulling weeds by hand and with hand tools, hire more hands or don’t plant what you can’t or refuse to manage without huge crop dusting and large pesticide sprayers. If you cannot harvest without using giant diesel chugging tree shakers or harvesters, hire more hands or break off what you are unable to swallow to allow more people in on food production. Even having families scattered around doing share cropping doesn’t seem like a bad idea, but, of course, getting to keep all the profits from their share.

    Makes more sense to me that the more mouths we have to feed and the more people needing a relatively basic means to make a living and raise families and pay taxes, the more farmers we should have. There is way too much pressure placed on too few landowners. The farmers and the land get fried from stress. Food producers should be intimate with dirt and have responsibility of only what they are willing and able to tend by humans. They should also contribute and take some burden off other to paying taxes. There should be a proportionate number of producers and consumers, not so lopsided.

    Really, the chemicals and the machinery and the practices are getting out of control and do absolutely no service to the future. Growing and forcing the maturity to hasten production on less land with less people is greedy and we wind up with empty nutrition and barren soil. One guy too cheap to pay for help is not capable of planting, weeding, fertilizing, watering, and harvesting huge plots without depleting the soil and sacrificing quality and poisoning the environment, in addition to exploiting limited resources.

    We all share the water, forest, sky, and are all responsible for teaching the next generations the job of keeping the good earth in tip-top shape for when they hand it down. A few stingy people want to monopolize all the goods and wipe their hands of the mess they leave which perpetuates the cycle of inequity.

    Thanks, P. Aitch for the reference to Dawn of Everything. I heard about it on Democracy Now! and am debating whether to get it from the library or if I need my own copy to read it.

  9. All Mammal 2022-08-22 14:46

    I totally meant to delete all but two of those paragraphs. Sorry for the redundancy.

  10. Stella Shaffer 2022-08-22 15:30

    It’s also ironic that cattle ranchers fear Bison will spread brucellosis, since they never had it until poorly-cared-for cattle GAVE it to the buffalo in the first place. The history of that is easy to track.

  11. P. Aitch 2022-08-22 17:03

    You’re welcome, All Mammal. “Dawn of Everything” is 689 pages. Took me a while to absorb. Enjoy, kola.

  12. Jim 2022-08-22 20:59

    Is anyone else concerned that Billionaires are taking over this land for there own purposes? When have the ultra weathly been concerned about anything but their own money?

  13. jakc 2022-08-22 21:08

    larry, not only does cattle grazing not stop invasive grasses, if not well managed, encourages invasive species. Bison on the other hand are by their nature much more intensive grazers and do a better job controlling invasive species. Dan O’Brien has a good discussion about this in his books about raising bison

  14. leslie 2022-08-23 15:14

    The federal government is responsible for managing between 635 million and 640 million acres of land in the United States; roughly 592 million of those acres are located in the West….435,000 acres are landlocked by private land and cannot be reached at all by public roads or through adjacent federally managed public lands.

    Over 27 million acres of land in Montana, most of which are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest.

    Over 60 million acres of land in Montana is privately owned….the largest private landowners in the state come from families that have lived in Montana for several generations.

    Coffee family are the descendants of an heiress of the Stockman Bank of Montana… own over 200,000 acres…. Great Northern Properties, a resource investment company is in coal…. the most private land in the state is Plum Creek Timber, with over 750,000 acres….

    Who is whining about too much western federal land? Guess.

    Most of us are worried and lucky to find an affordable, livable single acre. In the meantime preserve the federal land!

    $348-428,000 home price is the national average!!! Average annual wage is about $54,000.

    Any room for bison, elk, cats, bears? Corridors? Sure!

    Citations are googleable

  15. leslie 2022-08-23 15:17

    Dan O’brien also believes Crazy Horse and Valentine Magilleycuddy on Mt Rushmore Road were romantic bbf! So….

  16. jakc 2022-08-23 18:21


    DOB’s non-fiction is far superior to his fiction. His non-fiction is some of the best writing about the plains.

  17. All Mammal 2022-08-29 09:44

    Get an LGD if wolves threaten your flock or herd. I advocate for the wolf and have become a violent protector of beaver. I’ll fight a mofo haterass beaver killer. The brutes who think they are so smart are trying to exterminate my neighbors living across the street on Rapid Creek. My beaver friends don’t hurt anything down there. Beaver in western SD don’t even build dams these days. They have underwater and inland passageways into their subterranean lodge.

    The fancy water and city engineers have no clue what they are doing and will never admit their crappy ‘engineering’ is the culprit of dozens of Rapid Creek, Memorial Pond, and Pactola’s Alcatraz drownings. They don’t respect water’s right to flow. They disrespect the beaver and deny their right to live peacefully in the urban enclave they snuck into, creating a nursery for ducks, my blue heron, and other cool little riparian peeps.

    The beavs also help by thinning the nappy Russian olive trees the city put in to replace my giant cottonwoods in what they call ‘The Beautification of Rapid City project’. What I prefer to call the asinine gentrification attempt to remove people, in particular Natives, from relaxing beneath the shade of the giant sentinels of the park… their ill-thought plot, after chopping the trees up and sucking out and chipping the stump, there are voids in the ground where there was once huge root systems. I stuck my tape down the biggest sinkhole and it was over 7 feet straight down until it bent. Seems like everytime I get the city works guys to fill one in, two more show up. Big enough to swallow a grown person! In the middle of town next to the bike path. Too many clear reasons to run from any practice starting with the words MAN or MEN. Words like land MANagement. Leave it be. It is always better off before being MENtally MANaged. Its menacing.

    Wolves and beavers are a couple of the most important keystone species in our state. They foretell the health and future balance of our entire ecosystem.

  18. RST Tribal Member 2022-08-31 07:46

    Over time the merciless Indian savages, as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, will be proven to have the ecological of the region balance. Take substance for family, self and initially those clueless ungrateful travelers. Replace what is harvested. Leave room and natural resources for all to exist.

    My home reservation of almost a million acres of mostly prime grazing lands provides little for tribal members but is host to merciless white privileged terrorists. Some even went to Washington DC on January 6, 2020 to display their narrow view of most white guys are created equal, the rest be damned. These white scapegrace today are 3rd or 4th generation of carpetbaggers who figured out how to exploit tribal members and our natural resources for their financial gain.

    As tribal nations are rebuilding with the passage of the Self-Determination Act, the Indian Religious Free Act and the Indian Child Welfare Act the sins and deeds of the settler’s are coming undone. And they are not happy.

    In time the ecology of the upper plains will be restored to its pre-Declaration of Independence state and the merciless Indian savages will be leading the way.

    Maybe in South Dakota this movement will continue in November 2022 with replacement of the inept inbred Republicans controlling the State, and Washington.

  19. jerry 2022-08-31 09:02

    Mr. Edwin, here is the robot, on the job herding cattle.

    Bison know when to move from graze to graze, they don’t need no stinking herders to direct them. On top of all that, bison are beautiful and respectful of their place in this world. Move them from 6% to 60% in the Big Sky. They will even make more money on that marginal ground than what is produced their currently.

  20. John 2022-09-04 09:34

    The BLM uses some grazing leases for wild horses, as in, never domesticated horses. Any argument that grazing leases are for “farm” animals only ignores the reality that wild horses, wild and domestic elk, and others use grazing leases is ridiculous.
    As Leslie wrote, above, follow the money. The land barons are among the most selfish of people.

  21. larry kurtz 2022-09-04 14:06

    The inconvenient truth that domestic cattle are an invasive species decimating BLM, national grasslands and forests is lost on welfare ranchers who graze for pennies an acre. If Whitey can shoot an elk, moose or wild horse and leave it lay you can be assured he will start killing bison, too

  22. Arlo Blundt 2022-09-04 18:05

    Don’t think there are resident wolves in South Dakota though a rouge one might pass through now and then. There are packs of wolves where my lake house is in northern Wisconsin. They filtered in from the UP and northern Minnesota, then were “reintroduced about 25 years ago. People went nuts.Every dead cow or sheep was automatically a wolf kill. We now have several packs in the area, 4 to 8 wolves in a pack. You rarely see them, unless you’re up very early in the morning. They’ve brought the deer population under control. The deer were so thick they were killing off the saplings in the forest. Of course there can never be too many deer for deer hunters. Political pressure to have a wolf season, usually blocked in federal court, but occasionally instituted by the state, is limited to a quota. The quota in our area was 25, and 4 were shot and 21 trapped. Wolves are wily. Most are shot while crossing a frozen lake. Attempts at population control don’t seem to work. Number of wolves seems to equal the amount of deer and other prey in the woods. More food, more wolves. We’re also pretty flush with beaver and otter.

  23. leslie 2022-09-05 02:34

    RST, i’m with yah 100%.

    Ranchers kill wolves every chance they get.

    Fire Departments seem to take great pleasure undermining beavs’ good work.

    How could i forget moose?

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