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American Prairie Reserve Scales Back Bison Grazing Plans

The American Prairie Reserve bison herd has grown to about 850 animals. (Dennis J. Lingohr/American Prairie Reserve)
The American Prairie Reserve bison herd has grown to about 850 animals. (Dennis J. Lingohr/American Prairie Reserve)
September 26, 2019

HELENA, Mont. – In the face of local concern about bison, the American Prairie Reserve has revised its grazing application for the animals on federal lands in northeastern Montana.

The group – aiming to create the largest nature reserve in the continental United States – originally sought permission to graze bison year-round on 18 Bureau of Land Management allotments and 20 state leases covering 290,000 acres, and remove interior fencing.

The newest application requests seasonal grazing on only five BLM allotments and five state leases covering 48,000 acres with slight modifications to fencing.

"We are committed to being really good neighbors with people and we thought that this was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that by scaling back our request to what we had been doing originally for about 15 years, and that is requesting these change of uses on case-by-case or allotment-by-allotment basis," says Pete Geddes, vice president of American Prairie Reserve.”

Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution expressing concern about the wildlife conservation group’s original year-round proposal, so the group also has requested a demonstration project of year-round grazing on one BLM allotment and one state lease.

The main group pushing this legislation, the United Property Owners of Montana, still opposes the revised application and says bison grazing is a "radical departure" from BLM policy.

However, BLM spokesman Al Nash says there is precedent for this.

"We have several other BLM permittees across the nation and even in Montana that graze bison,” he explains. “So the change of livestock from cattle to bison isn't typical but it's certainly not unique."

Local residents also expressed concern that this change could damage the land used for grazing cattle.

But Geddes points out that bison are adapted to the grasslands of Montana, where they evolved, and don't have to be rotated in the same fashion as cattle.

"We've had bison grazing in one big pasture for quite a long time without having to move them around artificially, and the resource is just fine, and we shouldn't be surprised by that,” he points out. “Again, this is the native grazer."

The American Prairie Reserve bison herd has grown to about 850 since the group formed in 2001.

Disclosure: American Prairie Reserve contributes to our fund for reporting on Endangered Species & Wildlife, Public Lands/Wilderness, Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT