Where should the buffalo roam?A staff writer for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle has written several excellent news features on the bogged down bison quarantine program in Montana. The Sun published part of one of Daniel Person’s articles a couple weeks ago, picked up from the Associated Press wire. So I won’t rehash everything here, but rather, will just touch on the high points and the politics behind this chaos.
By: Bernie Kuntz, Outdoors, The Jamestown Sun
A staff writer for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle has written several excellent news features on the bogged down bison quarantine program in Montana. The Sun published part of one of Daniel Person’s articles a couple weeks ago, picked up from the Associated Press wire. So I won’t rehash everything here, but rather, will just touch on the high points and the politics behind this chaos.
First, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has been the lead agency in running a quarantine program that was supposed to allow brucellosis-free bison to be released into the wild. (They were involved in this program when I left the agency almost six years ago, and stated in 2005 that they were in the process of selecting lands on which to release quarantined bison.)
Well, now there are some 88 bison ready to be relocated, but FWP and the other federal land management agencies suddenly have realized they don’t have anywhere to put these bison! This is in spite of the fact that approximately 30 percent of Montana’s 147,000 square miles of land area is managed by the federal government agencies and the State of Montana, including 72 state-owned Wildlife Management Areas and 52 state parks!
Now Ted Turner has stepped in, offering to take 74 of the bison and keeping most of their offspring in return for taking care of the initial 74. As you might expect, this has set off a firestorm as it essentially is giving away publicly-owned Montana wildlife to private enterprise.
I should also mention that Wyoming’s Guernsey State Park immediately offered to take 14 of the 88 bison, but now stockgrowers in that state are speaking out against this proposal. The livestock industry is still concerned about brucellosis transmission, even from a quarantined herd, and members admit they don’t like the idea of bison competing with cattle for grass.
FWP apparently has awakened, and is now working on a plan — something they should have been doing five years ago. FWP officials are waltzing, saying “we are not there yet” when answering questions about where and when bison will be released in the state.
The success stories of transplanting big game species from elk and pronghorns to bighorn sheep and mountain goats over the last century are commendable for many states, including Montana. The question remains, why was the bison not included in these restoration programs?
The most candid, honest answer to come from FWP was uttered by Dave Risley, FWP’s Fish and Wildlife Division Administrator. Reporter Dan Person quoted him as follows: “We took elk from the remaining concentrations and transplanted them across the country. We did that with sheep and deer and other species. We took bison and put them behind a fence, and they’ve stayed there for the last 100 years.”
It is unreasonable to believe Montana or any other western state ever will have bison in numbers even remotely approaching those of 1850. That should not be the goal. But with the vast tracts of public land contained in the Upper Missouri River National Monument, the C. M. Russell Wildlife Refuge, both which extend for hundreds of miles in Montana, I find it inconceivable that wildlife officials can’t find a place for several hundred or more free-ranging bison.
Include the FWP parks and Wildlife Management Areas, the enormous tracts of BLM land and the state-owned “school sections” that are used for cattle grazing, and the contention that “we don’t have a place to put bison” rings pretty hollow.