It's Time for Year-Round Habitat for Wild Bison in Montana

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In July, I wrote about the State of Montana’s historic proposal to open a large chunk of the Gallatin National Forest west of Yellowstone National Park to year-round use by wild bison – as well as year-round use by bull bison in the Gardiner Basin north of the Park.

NRDC fully supports giving wild bison from Yellowstone access to year-round habitat in Montana. The way we see it, the more the merrier.

Much has changed in the bison world in the past decade – land use changes, revised brucellosis rules, permanently closed cattle grazing allotments, recent consensus recommendations from a diverse citizens working group, etc. – and all of these changes have set the table for greater tolerance of wild bison in Montana outside Yellowstone.

(Side note: though “tolerance” is the word often used when discussing bison policy and management issues (and it’s certainly the most accurate description of the situation), it has always irked me, as tolerance has a pejorative connotation to it (i.e., you “tolerate” a noisy neighbor). Minor point, but I wanted to make it.)

The initial scoping phase for the landmark proposal (where comments and questions from the public are collected) has been completed, and the next step is for the State of Montana to issue a draft environmental assessment in the near future. The draft EA will provide details about what exactly is being proposed, and it will offer multiple alternatives (from a status quo “no action” alternative to a few different increased tolerance (appreciation?) alternatives).

Following the issuance of the draft EA, there will be another comment period for the public to weigh in with their thoughts on the alternatives presented. Following the close of that comment period, the State will make its decision and issue a final EA.

Many Montanans are excited for this proposal to move forward and be put into action. Last week, I participated in a film screening in Big Sky, Montana, with representatives from the Sierra Club and the Gallatin Wildlife Association. Following the film, we had a candid question-and-answer discussion with the folks in attendance. Though some important questions were asked, the enthusiasm for allowing wild bison from Yellowstone National Park to access public lands in Montana was incredible.

Similarly, we screened a bison film at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman in April, and the auditorium was packed. People are interested in this issue, and they want – and know it’s time for – change.

We look forward to the release of the draft environmental assessment in the coming weeks.

As I wrote above, the table is set for year-round wild bison habitat in Montana, and the time is now.

About the Authors

Matt Skoglund

Director, Northern Rockies office

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