OPINION: The battle over APR’s Bison Grazing will not be won in the court of public opinion

Ron Poertner
Saturday, September 10, 2022
The battle over APR’s Bison Grazing will not be won in the court of public opinion

Ron Poertner

The American Prairie Reserve’s (APR) stated plan to “create the largest nature reserve in the contiguous United States” continues to meet strong rural opposition that is in sharp contrast with supportive views held by wild bison proponents. Battle lines have been drawn and the court of public opinion is now in session over BLM’s recent decision to approve bison grazing on APR’s allotments.

The real argument in all of this is whether or not a nonprofit organization like APR should be allowed to create a wild bison reserve that when fully implemented would shift the region’s economic paradigm from agriculture to ecotourism and APR has no intention of raising cattle or engaging in a production livestock operation.

APR intends to raise bison they define as semidomestic indigenous livestock to demonstrate that the grazing pattern of bison results in the restoration of rangeland health. Ecosystem engineering through bison grazing, as APR labels it, does not hold up to legal scrutiny because federal grazing laws require permittees to be engaged in raising production livestock on federally reserved grazing districts and APR has no interest in doing that.

BLM’s recent approval of APR’s bison grazing request finally puts the skunk on the table and enables the federal judicial system to determine whether BLM’s decision is in compliance with federal grazing laws and regulations.

Montana’s Attorney General, Austin Knudsen, in his appeal of BLM’s grazing decision best summarized this issue by writing: “The final [BLM] decision prioritizes elitist land management attitudes over economic realities for generational ranchers who rely on the land. As the American Prairie Reserve occupies more and more land, it pushes these ranching communities out, threatening the livestock industry and defying the very purpose of federal laws BLM purports to uphold.”

BLM’s poorly framed response contained in their July 28, 2022 Notice of Final Decision states: “There is no authority for BLM to evaluate the goals of permittees to determine eligibility to hold grazing permits.” BLM’s tunnel vision in this matter allows APR and its millionaire elitists to subvert the use of grazing permits on public land in order to build their bison reserve. BLM seems only too happy to support APR’s goals for the region and relies on unconvincing regulatory interpretations to justify its bison grazing decision.

APR’s high-salaried public relations experts continue to launch media blitzes applauding BLM’s grazing decision in an attempt to gain public favor for that decision; but, no matter how compelling the arguments may seem, the court of public opinion will not carry the day. APR’s grazing issue will be decided through an exhaustive legal review by administrative law judges and there is every reason to believe they will reject BLM’s grazing decision – and well they should.

One certainty in this matter is that the farm and ranch communities will stay in this fight ‘til the cows come home.

Ron Poertner is a retired military member and an advocate for preserving the rural heritage in Central Montana. He lives in Winifred.