Cattle Grazing, Bison, and a 15-Year CMR Plan


Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that they had published in the Federal Register the final Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR) in northern Montana.

Rick Potts, the FWS Project Leader for the CMR, explained the reason for the development of the CCP and outlined where we are now.

Rick says there have been several opportunities for comments during the 5-year process, so there is nothing of that sort taking place now.  The FWS regional director will now be the one to sign off on which alternative is chosen after the thirty-day availability period.

The EIS looks at four options:

A. No Action

B. Wildlife Population Emphasis

C. Public Use and Economic Emphasis

D. Ecological Processes Emphasis

The last option, according to Rick, has risen to the top and will likely be selected.

So how does Alternative D fit in with grazing?  There are an estimated 65 ongoing grazing permits with neighbors around the refuge, some of which have been grazing the land for generations.

He was quick to say that with the CMR being under FWS jurisdiction and not BLM, there is no requirement under the Taylor Grazing Act.

As we discuss the CMR, how can we omit the role that it could play in bison placement?

Rick says that as a wildlife agency, placing bison on the Refuge would be a possibility if that is what a stakeholder decision came to.

He also added that he thinks a bison herd on the CMR could work.

Both the CCP and EIS, a combined 800 pages, have been made public in two volumes.  In the second, FWS addresses comments that they received from the public.  CLICK HERE to be directed to the FWS information.  Nothing pertaining to the ongoing water right negotiations on the CMR was included in the CCP or EIS.

Rick says that if a “record of decision” is signed and they are allowed to implement the plan without a lawsuit, a series of 8 step-down management plans will lead from the current status of the CMR to the management identified in the CCP.  Rick says they would be again working with stakeholders to identify exactly how this will take place.  According to the FWS website, that decision will come this summer.

© Northern Ag Network 2012

Haylie Shipp


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