Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Montana ranchers oppose creation of the largest nature reserve in US

Traci Eatherton

Montana cattlemen are playing defense against the American Prairie Reserve, a nonprofit with a mission "to create the largest nature reserve in the continental United States." "When complete, it will protect nearly 3.5 million acres of prairie ecosystem (for comparison, Grand Teton National Park is 310,000 acres)," the group boasts in a press release. Already covering almost 400,000 acres, APR is in northeastern Montana, near Malta, and adjacent to public lands. The organization wants to establish a free-ranging bison herd in central Montana by purchasing over a half million acres of land and controlling over 3 million acres of public land. A proposal to modify 18 public grazing allotments in eastern Montana to allow APR bison has been under review with the Bureau of Land Management, and recently got a month extension for public comments. While the extension comes as a relief to cattle producers in the area, the extent of the potential problems is nothing short of frustrating according to Jackie Jensen, who's family has been ranching in the area for 35 years. "These people have absolutely no goals of maintaining fences," Jensen said. The elk hunting in the area is prime, and bringing in any fencing opens the question of how will that impact the elk population. "We are trying to rally up the hunters, but until an actual fence is built, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation won't get involved," Jensen said. Another topic of concern is APR's plans to eventually get the bison classified as wildlife, Jensen said. "In the state of Montana, private citizens cannot own wildlife. All buffalo will become wildlife," Jensen said, sharing the history of the elk, and the once private-owned elk farms that were forced to sell or put their animals down, once elk were classified as wildlife. "We really need the commercial buffalo people to come out against this," she said. While future problems with the plan are on producers' minds, the way APR and BLM have gone about the process has also been frustrating, Jensen said...MORE

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