Sean Garrity, president of the American Prairie Reserve (APR) has been working to address some of the questions and concerns that have been raised by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announcement on December 28, 2015 to approve grazing permit changes on the 13,000-acre Flat Creek Allotment in Northeastern Montana. The proposed decision would change the grazing permit from cattle to bison and to allow year round grazing. Also approved was the request to remove all interior fences, approximately 14.5 miles of fence, on the allotment.
To date, the BLM has received over 130 comments, some of them negative in regards to grazing allotment changes. The agriculture community has been vocal in it’s opposition to the change of designation for the allotment. The Montana Farm Bureau Federation, Montana Stockgrowers Association, R-CALF USA have all filed formal protests against the decision.
“Montana Farm Bureau, along with its members, was in opposition to the initial application for change in April of 2015 and submitted comments at the time saying as much,” said Montana Farm Bureau President Bob Hanson. “Our members are very concerned with the idea of and movement toward establishing a ‘wild’ bison herd in Montana. We think this decision symbolizes the BLM’s endorsement of doing just that.”
One of the key concerns is the potentially detrimental effect removal of the interior fences will have on the grass quality. According to the formal protest filed by R-CALF USA, “The Proposed Decision’s authorization of the removal of interior fencing contradicts best management practices for rangeland. It is counterintuitive to expect that the favorable condition of the rangeland in the 15439 Flat Creek Allotment achieved via the implementation of interior livestock cross fencing could be sustained following the abandonment of such a beneficial best-management practice.”
In Garrity’s words, it’s a difference of opinion. “We have thousands of hours of data off of our satellite radio collars to prove to ourselves, before we even asked for this, that the bison rotate themselves quite nicely,” he said. “We got the habitat you can take a look at, after all those years, and it looks terrific. In fact, the BLM comes down and says this is some of the best we have under our jurisdiction. And we have habitat that we just purchased that looks exactly like it. We don’t see a problem.”
The Flat Creek Allotment is not the first time the APR has requested and implemented a year round grazing program. Several years back, the they had made a similar request for year round grazing and removal of interior fences on the Sun Prairie allotment which was approved by the BLM.
“The BLM got negative comments at that time, but went ahead and approved it, and said basically said we will watch and see how it goes.” Garrity stated. “What’s happened over all those years, they watched to see how it goes, and it’s gone very very well. Particularly when you go down and take a look at the public areas, the BLM areas and take a look at the quality of forage and wildlife habitat that is there since we’ve been managing it since 2005.”
“On Flat Creek, the BLM said it’s the exact same habitat, it’s a half a mile up the road,” said Garrity. “Now APR is requesting a similar thing here to do the exact same thing that we did at the last one, so not that big of a deal.”
Goals going forward: Nothing different. Important as go forward, build the core keep most of the private lands into block management for public access for hunting and camping. They intend to also build more campgrounds.
Currently the reserve consists of roughly 305,000 acres that they hope to add to again this year in 2016. Completed 22 land purchases, the reserve has been built with a small percentage of private land, and mostly glued together public land, primarily BLM land.
“It’s important to us as we go forward is that we build out the core reserve, but also simultaneously work with surrounding agriculturalists, primarily cattle ranchers, to make sure that they have the opportunity to benefit from what we are doing as well. We admittedly are working to bring back a lot of wildlife.”
Garrity stated that it is a goal of the APR to not just increase the bison population but all wildlife in general and understand local landowners have concerns. “We want a lot more than exists there now and we understand that can make people nervous. How do I live with all this wildlife when I’m trying to manage my agricultural operation? We have an idea on how that can be done, based on travels around the world: Africa, around the Caspian Sea, around the middle east, around Indonesia. There are a lot of best practices that we baked in to a way of operating on the Eastern Montana landscape that we think can be beneficial for everybody.”
What’s unique about us, is that call or refer to conservation herd. In other words, we are not running it as a production herd. A lot of herds that are for production of course manage differently. They are trying to maximizing poundage on the animal before it ships. We have no such definition of success. So there are less people to work with in terms of bison management at all. We tend to work with national parks: like wind cave in south Dakota, or Canada's Elk Island National Park in Alberta…conservation herd that are mostly managed like a wildlife animal.
We are at 2400 feel elevation, wide open wind swept grasslands, one of the lowest areas in Montana, that’s were all the wildlife want to go. That’s where they want to be, that is the best spot to be in the wintertime. When comparing the APR to Yellowstone Park, Garrity said, “We are a quite a bit advantageous in that we will be a million acres bigger than Yellowstone Park, and the habitat is absolutely ideal.”
To date, the BLM has received over 130 comments, many of them negative. People sent in quite a few negative comments about rest rotation grazing that taking out the interior fences is not going to work. In Garrity’s words, It’s a difference of opinion. “We have thousands of hours of data of off our satellite radio collars to prove to ourselves, before we even asked for this, that the bison rotate themselves quite nicely. We got the habitat, you can take a look at, after all those years, it looks terrific. In fact BLM comes down and says this is some of the best we have under our jurisdiction. And we have habitat that we just purchased that looks exactly like it. We don’t see a problem.
Garrity also mentioned that he had recently been in contact with Alan Savory. In fact talking to Alan savory, who likes our project and how we are approaching it. The whole idea of rest rotation is that indigenous animals are gone that used to rotate themselves more naturally, so you have cows or in his case sheep or goats and things like that in South Africa, that don’t, how to manage them along. Humans have to manage them, That’s where that pasturing came from. People come to believe that is the best thing all the time. Even savory wouldn’t say that. We’re bringing an animal back that does this naturally.”
Garrity also spent some time discussing plans for drought years and how that would affect the bison management on the APR. “We travel around and try to learn best practices from people where are decades and years ahead of us.” Garrity spoke about traveling through Nibia is very dry and about 4 times the size of Montana big country and big wildlife areas. They turn on wells “
We have lots and lots of wells on our properties. We don’t have to drill the wells, they are already there.” urn back off and default back to natural when we get back to natural
© Northern Ag Network 2016