Faced with Bureau of Land Management resistance based on opposition from local ranchers, American Prairie Reserve revised its request to convert 18 BLM grazing allotments from cattle to year-long bison grazing.

All 18 allotments, totaling over 450 square miles, are connected to APR properties. With these allotments and its private land, APR would have several areas large enough for free-ranging bison. In addition, 300 miles of interior fence was to be removed, benefiting other wildlife, especially pronghorn antelope.

As a “compromise” APR will continue year-long bison grazing on 19 square miles of public land, as already approved in 2005. APR may also graze bison seasonally on about 75 square miles of public land associated with three of its properties. Also, a small test of the results from free-ranging bison, begun in 2014, will continue.

This “compromise” will not advance bison conservation. It duplicates values and tests of seasonal or year-long bison grazing on several, usually small, federal areas elsewhere. Moreover, the term and evaluation-standards of the APR test of bison grazing are not specified. And a true test of year-long bison grazing should be conducted on at least 100 square miles of diverse habitat, allowing bison to exercise their evolved adaptations for using the landscape. At APR, the diverse landscape should include the south-facing, topographically diverse habitat of the Missouri breaks on the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge.

APR’s long-term goal is to establish a large reserve for a diversity of wildlife that would benefit from wild, free-ranging bison as a keystone prairie species. However, attempts to restore public bison to the abundant public land in this area have been thwarted for over 100 years by the livestock industry.

Mostly, the BLM/APR “compromise” kicks the can of bison conservation, and of restoring public, wild bison to Montana, down the road again.

Jim Bailey

Belgrade