Conservation District Outlines Bison Concerns


The following letter was sent to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission prior to their Friday vote on the relocation of 68 bison to two Montana Indian reservations.  For more background information and to listen to the Commission meeting live (between 8:30 and 1:00 on Friday), CLICK HERE.

Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission

P.O. Box 200701

Helena, MT  59620-0701

Re: Translocation of Bison to Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations

Dear FWP Commission:

Thank you for allowing the District to voice their concerns on the Translocation of Bison to Fort Belknap and Fort Peck Reservations. The McCone Conservation District Board of Supervisors respectfully submits the following comments.

In the EA it states that SB 212 requires FWP to complete a management plan before any translocation of bison in Montana and that includes the reservations. The Decision Notice states that “While the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations are within Montana’s state boundaries, they are sovereign nations not subject to the laws of Montana, and therefore FWP can’t enforce SB212 on the reservation. You also address that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)will include continued testing, containment and response if bison escape, etc.

Comment: How is the Commission going to guarantee that they (the Tribes) will abide by the MOU and follow all the protocols of testing, containment, response if bison escape and the monitoring once these study bison are on the reservations as they are sovereign nations?

In the EA it states that the Tribes have a commitment of funding from the Defenders of Wildlife to assist with the construction of a fence for the 800 acre pasture which has yet to be fenced. The EA also states that Fort Belknap and the Fort Peck Reservations will be liable for all damages done to private property from escaping bison.

In the Decision Notice it states “Fort Belknap Tribe has said they will compensate adjoining landowners for reasonable damage claims if study bison escape and cause damage to private property. However, that will be at the discretion of the Fort Belknap Tribe. The process will be determined by the Tribe.

During the public comment meeting held in Glasgow, there were comments made that there were landowners that received damages from bison escaping Fort Belknap and to this day they have never been compensated.

According to the Defenders of Wildlife website they are the working force behind Fort Belknap and Fort Peck to acquire bison. Defenders of Wildlife have provided funds to add more bison and purchase supplemental feed during drought times. In 2009 Defenders helped Fort Belknap buy the lease, for a 7500 acre grazing allotment to expand. They are also working on restoring Yellowstone Bison on to Fort Belknap.

In 2001 Defenders purchased bison from Fort Belknap to start a new bison herd on the Fort Peck Reservation. Needing more room to grow Defenders helped buy the grazing lease for additional 4500 acres. Defenders are also working with the Fort Peck Tribes on restoring Yellowstone bison to Fort Peck Reservation.


Comment Does Fort Belknap and Fort Peck Reservations have a funding commitment from the Defenders of Wildlife for damages to private landowner’s croplands and fences, should bison escape as they are liable or will this be a case like with the wolves. Defenders of Wildlife had funds to compensate the ranchers for livestock losses from wolves until they started mounting to astronomical costs and they discontinued their funding to compensate the livestock owners for their losses?

If the tribes are liable for damages and don’t have the funds to purchase fencing materials, purchase supplement feed or funds to acquire more bison etc. How will they be able to compensate the adjacent landowners for damages?

In the EA states “Existing vegetation quality and quantity within the 800-acre pasture may decrease depending upon how long the new bison are required to be held in the winter pasture while the existing bison herd is being liquidated. If the study bison are sequestered for an anticipated 3 years, the existing native grasses and forbs would likely be overgrazed giving rise to an increase in less desirable and less nutritious species (e.g. cheatgrass and brome)”.

Comment; we all have a responsibility to protect our natural resources and to use them wisely. Eradicating cheat grass and brome comes with great difficulty once established. This is a total disregard of our natural resources. There should be a management plan in place so that degradation of the rangeland can be prevented.

Director Maurier states that the bison could be moved this winter.

Comment; Yet the Tribes state that they don’t have the fencing in place and that it will take approximately 3 years to liquidate their herd and Fort Peck only have a 5 barb-wire fence in place and there has been know terms negotiated or finalized. How can these bison possibly be moved by this winter?

The Decision Notice addressed concerns of bison intermingling with the tribes existing herds.FWP state that the tribes are aware of the importance of keeping their commercial herds and the study herds separate. Yet in the EA it states that the Tribes had bison escape in 2011 due to the winter.

Comment; with knowing that bison have escaped from tribal lands as stated in the EA, How is FWP going to guarantee that these study bison will not come in contact with the commercial bison in event of inadequate forage, weather or a bull being pushed out of the herd looking for a mate. Bison cycle just like cattle. How are you going to guarantee that the commercial bison don’t intermingle with the study bison? How are you going to guarantee that the neighbor’s Black Angus bull doesn’t intermingle with the genetically pure bison? Will this not increase the chances for bison to breed with commercial bison that are not genetically pure or the neighbor’s cattle?

In the Decision notice you state that if they move off the reservation the Tribes have 72 hours to round up bison and move them back onto the reservation. Where did the 72 hour requirement come from? I don’t see anywhere in the EA that this was stated.

The EA states “If an on-site capture facility is established within the range unit, the Tribes intend to design it as a portable structure that would be taken down when the monitoring requirements and study is completed. It would  be beneficial to have capture facility established before bison translocation takes place as part of the management is that these bison be tested that is permanent.

In The Billings Gazette dated December 2 Governor Schweitzer says he would not allow wild bison shipments and that blocking such shipment is intended to ramp up pressure on the US dept. of Interior to accept a proposal to relocate a second group of bison to the National Bison Range near Moiese. Schweitzer went to say that the DOI rejected that offer which officials from the DOI cited concerns about brucellosis. Dept of Agriculture responded saying these bison are brucellosis free. If the DOI isn’t willing to take these brucellosis free bison because they have concerns of brucellosis why does the FWP commission feel that the private landowners should not be concerned?

What about all the other diseases? As an example parasites;

The Ted Turner’s Flying D herd bison have mycoplasma which is transmitted by sneeze droplets or nose- to -nose contact or nasal secretions. There is no cure. In Nebraska in 2007 nearly a quarter of the 200 buffalo in Kansas’ Maxwell Wildlife Refuge, located 50 miles north of Wichita, have died of Mycoplasma bovis. Refuge manager Cliff Peterson tells the Wichita Eagle he’s aware of two other infected buffalo herds in the state. Half of one herd and a third of the other have died the article reports. Kansas State University DVM Larry Hollis says Mycoplasma bovis infections are rare in native Kansas cattle herds. He advises cattlemen to ensure they have a double fence between buffalo herds and cattle herds, as bacteria are spread by sneeze droplets or nose-to-nose contact. There is no cure.

The FWP state that a EA is adequate. The dept has determined that a EIS is not needed. What about the impact to the 79,200 cattle and calves (USDA 2007b) in Blaine County and the 38,000 cattle and calves in Roosevelt County as stated in the EA if brucellosis should show up in the area after the bison are moved onto the reservation in Blaine and Roosevelt Counties. What kinds of economical impact will that have to the livestock industry in the surrounding area or the State of Montana? Agriculture remains Montana’s #1 Industry with a 1.2 billon livestock industry and crop production at 1.7 billion, I also want to add that non-residential travel has decreased by 24{fe867fa2be02a5a45e8bbb747b653fe2e9d0331fd056b85cd0c1a3542435a96e}.   No amount of tourism is going to replace this ag industry or feed the country.


Final Comment; Why would the FWP Commission give the approval to allow a genetically   pure, free roaming bison to be domesticated?

The Montana Fish and Game Commission have the power to allow the introduction of species, but the Commission is also held to the laws that protect agriculture and native wildlife. (MCA 87-5-701)

With all the uncertainty, the McCone Conservation District recommends the No Action Alternative.


Jeanne Kirkegard

Jeanne Kirkegard

McCone Conservation District 

For McCone Conservation District Supervisors


Source:  McCone County Conservation District

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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