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LIVINGSTON – Park County commissioners oppose a plan to allow bison to remain outside Yellowstone National Park year-round, but they delayed submitting their comments to give the public time to weigh in.

At a Park County Commission meeting Monday, Commissioner Marty Malone handed out what he hoped would soon be the commissioners’ formal response to a Fish, Wildlife & Parks and Department of Livestock environmental assessment on expanding bison range in Montana.

Bison range expansion is supported by the adaptive management strategy of the Interagency Bison Management Plan.

Only one person, Jeanne-Marie Souvigney, attended the meeting due to the late notice.

“I just found out about it on Friday,” Souvigney said. “I think a lot of other people would like to have been here, but this is a tough time to have a meeting. It would be nice to have more of a dialogue.”

Malone wrote the eight-point response, which supports no further expansion of bison range, especially north of Gardiner.

“I think this is just one step. They’ll be in Livingston in five years the way they’re going,” Malone said.

Malone’s arguments included: Montana doesn’t have the resources to monitor bison year-round and keep them off private property; bison would eat forage that cows and other wildlife use; and the situation in Gardiner should be separate from that in West Yellowstone.

The environmental assessment, released July 12, proposes one alternative that would create larger bison-tolerance zones near Gardiner and West Yellowstone.

Near West Yellowstone, any bison could stay year-round in portions of the Gallatin National Forest as far north as the Taylor Fork drainage.

Near Gardiner, bull bison could remain year-round outside the park as far north as Yankee Jim Canyon.

Cattlemen’s fear of brucellosis is one of the reasons bison have been hazed back into the park every spring. But more evidence shows that elk are responsible for recent disease outbreaks.

Malone included as one of his points the assertion that bulls carry the disease.

Brucellosis can cause elk, bison and cattle to abort calves, but animals can contract the disease only by coming into physical contact with aborted fetuses. So bulls aren’t a threat to cattle when it comes to disease.

Souvigney said wildlife conflicts are not going to go away and bringing more people into the conversation might yield better solutions.

Commissioner Jim Durgan agreed and said Commissioner Clint Tinsley, who was absent Monday, also wanted more public input before signing off on the comments.

Durgan suggested delaying the vote so commissioners could schedule an evening public meeting, which displeased Malone.

“Just for the record, I’d like to vote,” Malone said.

The commissioners may bring the comments to a vote Monday.

Last winter, the IBMP partners expanded winter bison range north of Gardiner.

Park County joined livestock groups, including the Park County Stock Growers Association and the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, in a lawsuit to stop the proposal.

One of the plaintiff’s arguments was that because of brucellosis, the presence of bison violates the constitutional guarantee to a clean and healthful environment.

But in January, a district judge ruled against the cattle producers, citing a previous court ruling that said living with wildlife was something people must accept when they choose to live in Montana.

Laura Lundquist can be reached at 582-2638 or llundquist@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter at @llundquist.

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