Landowners act to protect properties from bison threat

By: 
RON POERTNER

Landowners in northern Fergus County have become increasingly concerned about the growing potential for the establishment of bison herds in their backyards, and have taken action to address that threat.
Recently, area landowners joined in a community effort to protect their properties from the threat of bison by placing a negative easement on their land, prohibiting wild, free roaming or domestic bison from being placed on their individually owned properties.
During February/March 2017, 133 property owners in Fergus County began the process of placing a negative bison easement on their properties that prohibits bison from occupying their deeded land for a period of 20 years. The bison easement became effective March 7, and applies to over 200,000 acres in Fergus County. Landowners have the option to renew the easement at the end of the 20-year sunset clause.
Landowners signed the negative easement not only for the benefit of themselves and their neighbors, but to preserve the historic, cultural and natural values associated with their private properties and to mitigate the negative and lasting impacts bison pose on their way of life.
Landowner concerns over wild bison are well documented, and center on the bison’s unpredictable migratory behavior, their social and innate behaviors, and their tendency to carry brucellosis and other diseases.
One Winifred resident said, “Landowners are just plain fed up with wild bison proponents of every stripe who want to turn bison loose on the prairie.”
Bison restoration efforts in Montana include:
• Department of the Interior’s bison restoration plan for the West is described in a 2014 document titled: “Bison Report- Looking Forward.” For Montana, the report identifies the CMR National Wildlife Refuge as a potential site for bison restoration and focuses on large landscape ecological restoration without fences.
• The CMR Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan published in 2012 states the Fish and Wildlife Service would cooperate with Montana and other partners if the state develops a plan to restore bison as a wide-ranging species in eastern Montana.
• Governor Bullock, during his first term, directed Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to develop an Environmental Impact Statement pertaining to bison restoration in the state. Four alternatives are contained in the EIS that address the path forward on the bison issue and are currently being considered by the governor, making his decision in this matter a pivotal one for landowners.
• The American Prairie Reserve, a non-profit organization, has for several years been implementing its vision to restore millions of acres of north-central Montana to a native setting to include the establishment of free roaming bison herds. APR’s plan calls for the stitching together of state and federal lands along with their deeded properties to create a so-called American Serengeti. To achieve its goals, APR raises bison as domestic livestock, yet operates on the belief that if future government policies change to allow managing bison as wildlife, they would be happy to donate their bison herds to the public, as they would no longer need to own and manage them.
Dan Boyce, who ranches next to the Judith River, said, “I believe the bison easement now in place is a clear demonstration of community solidarity and sends a compelling message that we do not want unmanaged bison in our area... Landowner response to the bison easement has been extremely positive and I expect to see the concept implemented in other prairie communities as well.”
Matt Knox, who raises cattle in the Missouri Breaks, said, “We have seen multiple bison initiatives over the years, from the Buffalo Commons and the Big Open concepts to the various bison initiatives that now confront us. Unfortunately, bison advocacy groups now appear to be in lock step with state and federal planners, and share a common goal to block up large tracts of land to support bison herds. I think this bison easement offers landowners the protection needed to address that planning.”
Cleo Boyce, whose ranch borders the Missouri Breaks Monument, said, “We are a little tired of always being on the receiving end of these preservation schemes that keep cropping up. Those who want to take our area back to the Pleistocene Era should remember there are many hard working rural families who live on the prairie and who represent the economic engine that helps sustain many local businesses, including bankers, doctors, lawyers, implement dealers, farm suppliers, movie theaters, grocery stores and yes, even funeral homes.”
Gladys Walling, longtime Winifred area farm wife, added, “I was one of the first to sign up for the bison easement because I felt it was important to stand up in support of our farm and ranch communities. I want to keep my land in agriculture and not have bison running through my fields and pastures. The looming world food shortage should convince our leaders to do everything possible to sustain agriculture and reject concepts that diminish it.”
Most landowners do not see wild bison herds and cattle operations as being compatible in the same area, including Everson Bench rancher Terry Knox who said, “We are just trying to protect the ranching heritage that has been in our family for the past 106 years, and the bison easement we placed on our property provides that safeguard.”
For more information, contact Ron Poertner, (406) 462-5359.

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