The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a proposed decision on a bison grazing proposal involving seven allotments in Phillips County, Montana, held by American Prairie (AP). In conjunction with the proposed decision, the BLM released an associated Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI).
The Telegraph Creek, Box Elder, Flat Creek, White Rock, French Coulee, Garey Coulee and East Dry Fork allotments — a total of approximately 63,500 acres of BLM-administered lands — currently provide 7,969 animal unit months (AUMs) of permitted use.
The proposed decision would allow bison grazing on six of the seven BLM allotments in AP’s proposal. One common allotment grazed with another livestock operator would remain approved for cattle-only grazing. Seasonal grazing would be permitted on four of the allotments. Year-round grazing would be permitted on three allotments; two of which had been previously authorized for year-round bison grazing. There would be no change in AUMs on any of the allotments. The majority of internal fencing on BLM-administered lands would remain intact.
However, the Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) were disappointed in the decision.
“In addition to an unacceptable disregard for animal and rangeland health, this decision fails to address the longstanding, science-based concerns raised by Montana ranchers, land managers, and conservation experts. PLC, NCBA, and our partners on the ground have consistently raised foundational flaws in the BLM’s assessment, starting with the inappropriate use of an Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for total conversion of these allotments. This decision poses clear threats to rangeland and riparian ecosystems and is in direct conflict with the agency’s mandated responsibility to uphold multiple use,” said Executive Director of PLC and NCBA Natural Resources Kaitlynn Glover.
According to the two groups, bison follow significantly different grazing patterns and behaviors than cattle, and this decision would alter the grazing authorizations and season of use on six of the seven allotments under consideration. If finalized, this conversion will result in resource degradation and undermine the careful stewardship of existing grazing permittees. The BLM’s decision also faces serious questions about the legality of conversion of the allotments under existing federal grazing law.
In the news release, the groups reiterate that the land management decisions — especially ones that permanently alter the forage profile, soil health, and waterways of a grassland ecosystem — should be led by the expertise of people on the ground. Through continued engagement, including the submission of comments on the draft Environmental Assessment in September 2021, NCBA and PLC stand with Montana Public Lands Council and Montana Stockgrowers Association to ensure the concerns that have been by raised by ranchers in Montana and across the West are not dismissed in this process.
Jim Steinbeisser, Montana Stockgrowers Association President said, “Our organization and our members have consistently provided comments regarding our concerns with APR’s proposals. These include concerns over the impacts to the rangeland health, riparian areas, and socioeconomic impacts to the rural communities and the livestock industry. The proposed decision published today did not address the concerns brought forth by our association, as well as numerous other ranching families.”