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Biodiversity: Feds take new look at bison restoration

Report addresses brucellosis concerns

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Badlands bison. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Bison may not be getting much love in Montana, where livestock producers have repeatedly blocked efforts to restore herds outside Yellowstone National Park, but the federal government has identified ways to address concerns about brucellosis, according to a comprehensive new report on bison conservation released last week.

According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Interior, the report “reaffirms the commitment to work with states, tribes and other partners to promote the restoration of bison to appropriate and well-managed levels on public and tribal lands.”

“The Interior Department has more than a century-long legacy of conserving the North American bison, and we will continue to pursue the ecological and cultural restoration of the species on behalf of the American public and American Indian tribes who have a special connection to this iconic animal,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Continue reading

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Biodiversity: Another win for bison restoration

Montana court says bison are not livestock

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A Yellowstone bison. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Montana district court judge this month rejected yet another attempt by ranchers to block the restoration of bison in the northern plains. The ranchers sought to have wild bison classified as livestock rather than wildlife, but Montana District Judge John McKeon ruled last week that wild bison are wildlife under state law — regardless of their confinement in quarantine.

A legal classification as livestock would have transferred jurisdiction over quarantined bison from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to the Montana Department of Livestock—a move that threatened to impede any future efforts to restore native bison as a wildlife species in appropriate portions of their historic habitat.

“This ruling rightly discredits what amounted to a stealth attack on future efforts to restore wild bison in Montana,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who represented Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation in opposing Citizens for Balanced Use’s argument. “Wild bison are classified as wildlife under Montana law. Now it is time to restore wild bison as wildlife on the Montana landscape.” Continue reading

Grand Canyon National Park eyes bison plan

Roaming buffalo create management challenges

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The buffalo are roaming in Grand Canyon National Park. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A herd of bison brought to northern Arizona in the early 1900s has moved from a state-run wildlife area into Grand Canyon National Park, and now park rangers want to develop a plan to manage the animals.

Initially, the bison were managed in the House Rock Wildlife Area for big game hunters, but in the late 1990s, the animals have pioneered their way to the top of the Kaibab Plateau and into Grand Canyon National Park.

Resource managers say  combination of public hunt pressure, drought and fire, and reduced forage quality in House Rock Valley during the 1990s may have contributed to the bison moving through Saddle Mountain Wilderness and onto the higher elevations of the Kaibab Plateau. Over the past several years, very few bison have returned to wildlife area. Most now spend a majority of their time inside the park. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Montana Supreme Court ends bison battle

Ruling gives herds more room to roam

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Bison grazing in the South Dakota badlands. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Native bison will get more room to roam outside Yellowstone National Park, as the Montana Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision that will end the slaughter of bison leaving the park. The court decision also gives the wild animals seasonal access to important winter and early spring habitat outside the north boundary of the park in the Gardiner Basin area until May 1 of each year.

The ruling ends a bitter and long-running battle between wildlife advocates and ranchers, who just can’t seem to let go of their innate hostility toward most native species, including predators. The courts have now twice rebuffed demands by some livestock producers and their allies to require aggressive hazing and slaughtering of bison that enter the Gardiner Basin area from Yellowstone National Park in the winter and early spring in search of the forage they need to survive. Continue reading

Montana Supreme Court ruling clears way to restore bison on Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Native American lands

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A buffalo grazing in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Decision has cultural and economic benefits for tribal groups at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Montana Supreme Court ruling last week clears the way for the return of Brucellosis-free Yellowstone bison to Native American lands, where the animals are valued for their cultural, traditional and economic benefits.

The Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision following an appeal by two conservation groups, Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation, represented by the public-interest environmental law firm Earthjustice.

The transfer of Yellowstone bison to the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Native American lands was opposed by Citizens for Balanced Use, which voiced concerns that the bison might break free of enclosures and transmit Brucellosis to domesticated cattle. Continue reading

Road Trip USA: Grassland and big skies

Wide-open prairie in the heartland

American bison grazing just outside Badlands National Park.

NATCHEZ — We’re in the heart of the deep south now, in Mississippi Delta country, sweltering in early summer heat and thinking back to a few days ago, when we enjoyed gentle breezes on the great plains of South Dakota. Those wide-open spaces can be a little disorienting for mountain dwellers. It’s easy to orient yourself in the morning by checking a familiar skyline as a reference point. Out in this endless sea of rolling grass, that’s not an option. But it’s easy to see what drew pioneers and settlers westward into this vast territory. On a fair day, it’s gentle and inviting …

Big Sky.

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Road Trip USA: Bison roam free in the Badlands

Restoration of wild herds could help restore grassland ecosystems

A wild bison roams free in the Black Hills of South Dakota. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — An international conservation group is suggesting that bison herds could once again roam the grasslands and forests of North America — but only if there is a significant shift in public attitude about the animals.

“The key is recognition that the bison is a wildlife species and to be conserved as wildlife, it needs land and supportive government policies,” said the University of Calgary’s Dr. Cormack Gates, who co-edited a recent report on North American bison and serves as co-chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s bison specialist group.

Restoring bison could be one of the most ambitious wildlife conservation projects ever attempted, considering the amount of rangeland they would need to thrive in the wild. Alaska wildlife biologists are considering a plan to restore wood bison, and there is a remnant bison herd in Yellowstone. But in other parts of North America — including Colorado — the animals are managed primarily as livestock.

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