Montana Proposes Year-Round Habitat for Wild Bison Outside Yellowstone National Park

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Last week, the State of Montana announced a landmark proposal for year-round bison habitat outside Yellowstone National Park in Montana. Specifically, the proposal would allow for year-round use for all bison on a big chunk of the Gallatin National Forest west of the Park (e.g., Horse Butte, the Hebgen Basin, much of the upper Gallatin River watershed) and year-round use by bull bison in the Gardiner Basin north of the Park.

This is huge, great news, and it makes a lot of sense.

As the State said in its scoping notice, there have been several big changes since 2000, the year the federal-state-tribal management scheme for Yellowstone bison was implemented. The State then listed five changes that helped prompt this new proposal:

  1. Cattle are no longer found on the Horse Butte peninsula following a change in land ownership and then a subsequent change in land use;
  2. The U.S. Forest Service permanently retired its Horse Butte grazing allotment;
  3. Cattle no longer graze on the previous allotments in the Taylor Fork;
  4. Significant changes were made in 2010 to the federal rules that govern the response to brucellosis infection of cattle; and
  5. Agreement among the federal-state-tribal management partners that research suggests little risk of brucellosis transmission from bull bison to domestic cattle.

These factors are game-changing events, and I’ve previously written about them here, here, and here. It’s encouraging to see the federal-state-tribal managers respond to these changes and propose a significant increase in available habitat for bison outside Yellowstone National Park.

It’s also important to recognize the hard work of a diverse group of Montana citizens that joined together a year and a half ago to try to find a better way forward for Yellowstone’s iconic bison population. The Citizens Working Group we formed was comprised of business owners, landowners, environmentalists, livestock producers, hunters, and concerned citizens. Over the course of several facilitated meetings over many months, we were able to reach consensus on some strong, practical recommendations regarding how we thought Yellowstone’s bison could be better managed.

This was no small task, given the array of opinions involved, but we persevered, and this proposal from the State of Montana is a direct result of that hard work, as the regional supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said last week. The federal-state-tribal managers supported the Citizens Working Group, and it’s good to see them acting on our recommendations.

Regarding this proposal, Montana is in the scoping phase right now, seeking input from people to help guide the more detailed environmental review the State will do this fall. As such, Montana is accepting any and all comments at [email protected] and [email protected].

After years of frustration from all sides of this issue, providing year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana outside Yellowstone National Park would be a great step in the right direction for Montana.

About the Authors

Matt Skoglund

Director, Northern Rockies office

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