Sage Grouse Management Plans Based on Inaccurate Science

One year after the announcement by the Department of Interior that a listing under the Endangered Species Act was not warranted for the greater sage grouse and the implementation of restrictive resource management plans for the species, the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association submitted a report to the agencies citing concerns with the methodology used.

Ethan Lane, PLC executive director and NCBA executive director of federal lands, notes that recent studies have shown little or no correlation between sage grouse nest success and the requirements set out by the agencies.

“The threats to sage grouse habitat remain wildfire and land development, both of which are mitigated by proper livestock grazing,” said Lane. “One of the most restrictive and burdensome requirements set out by the agencies through the sage grouse Resource Management Plans is the arbitrary stubble height requirement. To say that grass height alone can predict whether or not a sage grouse nest will be successful is not accurate and based on flawed methodology.”

The report points to recent studies showing that the assessments of stubble height required by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are incorrect. These studies show that the timing of grass height measurements in relation to nest predation are fundamentally flawed and not indicative of nesting success.

“Grass height measurements for successful nests are usually conducted in late spring when the eggs have successfully hatched and the grass is taller,” said Lane. “Contrarily, predation of nests often happens closer to the time the eggs are laid in early spring when the grasses are still growing. Grass height alone has little impact on the success or failure of sage grouse nesting, yet these requirements put intense pressure on grazing rotation and the long term health of the range.”

Repeated studies clearly show that grasses respond best to intensively-managed grazing that focuses heavily on timing and recovery. A managed grazing rotation means that a pasture will be grazed early in the season in some years and later in others to ensure optimal recovery and rangeland health.

“The Resource Management Plans make stubble height the driving factor in grazing decisions and impede improving rangeland conditions,” said Lane. “This is counter-productive to sage grouse habitat, as we know healthy rangelands are the largest factor in the success of the species. Moreover, by prioritizing individual data points like grass height over long-term range health, these plans also detract from the conservation of public lands and result in deteriorated rangelands.”

The Public Lands Council is calling on BLM, USFS and USFWS to provide clear instruction at the field level that livestock grazing is not a significant threat, livestock grazing should not be held to a standard that is not ecologically possible in some sites, and that reducing numbers and utilization of public lands will only increase the fuel load.

Source: Public Lands Council

Public Lands Council Annual Meeting Update

We catch up with Jay Bodner, MSGA  Director of Natural Resources and Montana Public Lands Council Executive Secretary. He gives us an update on what the top issues are at the meeting and how they affect Montana and MSGA members.

Living with Grizzly Bears

MSGA Director Wayne Slaght of Orlando, MT shares his practices for living with grizzly bears

Written by Wayne Slaght, Ovando, MT

Shaelyn

Grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide have continued to be in the headlines, due mostly to the numerous conflicts with both humans and livestock. With an estimated population of over 1000 bears in this area and along the Rocky Mountain Front, these animals continue to expand their range and encounters with landowners. As a director on the MSGA board and ranch manager in the heart of grizzly bear territory, I wanted to share with the membership some of my experiences and some of the practices we have implemented to help reduce conflicts with grizzly bears and livestock depredations.

Our ranch is located near Ovando, which is about 50 miles east of Missoula. The first grizzly bears showed up on our ranch about 15 years ago. Our first experiences dealt with livestock depredations and significant conflicts in the spring during calving. Our concerns focused on the safety of our family and livestock and the uncertainty of how to deal with this large carnivore. The first steps our ranch took were to electric fence our calving lots. We received financial help from U.S. Fish and Wildlife services, Montana Fish and Wildlife, NRCS and various other concerned groups. We have installed electric fence around our calving lots and around some of the fields where the pairs are turned into and since doing this, we have had no bear problems in these areas. After proof of this, other ranchers in this valley have now installed electric fences in the same way and the area now has over 12 miles of electric fencing around calving lots.

Dead animals and dead animal sights are a great attractant to grizzly bears and this leads to problem bears. We needed to find a means of disposing the carcasses without tempting the bears in close to our cattle and our homes. A carcass pick up program was started in our valley with the financial help of a local group, The Blackfoot Challenge. We were fortunate enough to have the donation of a truck and soon found a driver to pick up and the carcasses and deliver them to a compost site. The Montana Department of Transportation was fundamental in helping us set up this compost site. We began by cleaning up the dead animal pits of ranchers willing to cooperate with the project. The truck runs from the middle of February until the end of May stopping by each ranch twice a week to pick up any animals lost during the calving season. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy to get all ranchers on board but now, basically all the ranchers in this area believe in the project and are using it. This tool continues to be used and has definitely helped to keep the bears at bay.

We have also had problems with bears getting into sheds that contain grain and mineral. Last year we purchased 2 ocean containers with the help of Montana Fish and Game and another agency. We ended up paying for one half of the cost and the containers have proved to work well.There was a time and not so long ago that we didn’t have the Grizzly Bear problems that we have now, in fact, it was a very rare thing to see one roaming this valley. But now, they are here and we have to find ways to deal with them. I realize it can be awkward and a hassle, time consuming and costly but I feel it’s incredibly important to implement tools to help and then to use the available tools to keep livestock depredation down and our families safe. There are programs, grants and other means of assistance out there to help financially and I would like to suggest that you take advantage of them. Since we have implemented these tools and have put them to use, we have had no livestock depredation to the grizzly bear in 12 years, yet, we seem them on a daily basis.

If you check with the staff at the MSGA office or me, we would be glad to help you in any way. It’s our desire to help alleviate problems with the bears.

Senate Holds Oversight Hearing on Sage Grouse Habitat Management  

Source: National Cattlemen’s Beef Association

WASHINGTON (June 28, 2016) – Today, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining held an oversight hearing on the Federal sage grouse plans and their impact to successful ongoing state management of the species. Brenda Richards, Owyhee County Idaho rancher and president of the Public Lands Council, testified on behalf of the PLC and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Richards said that any Federal management plan must first recognize the essential contribution of grazing to conservation.

“Ranchers across the west have a vested interest not just in the health of their livestock, but in the rangelands that support their herds and the wildlife that thrive alongside them,” said Richards. “The businesses they operate form the economic nucleus of many rural communities, providing jobs and opportunities where they wouldn’t exist otherwise. Additionally, ranchers often serve as first responders in emergency situations across vast, remote stretches of unoccupied federal lands. Simply put, public lands ranchers are an essential element of strong communities, healthy economies, and productive rangelands across the west.”

Across the west, roughly 22,000 ranchers steward approximately 250 million acres of federal land and 140 million acres of adjacent private land. With as much as 80 percent of productive sage grouse habitat on private lands adjacent to federal permit ground, this makes private partnership essential in increasing sage grouse numbers. However, concern remains that local stakeholder input is being ignored by the Bureau of Land Management.

“Items such as Focal Areas, mandatory stubble height requirements and withdrawals of permits impose radically severe and unnecessary management restrictions on this vast area in opposition to proven strategies,” said Richards. “Rather than embracing grazing as a resource and tool for conservation benefit, these plan amendments impose arbitrary restrictions to satisfy requirements for newly minted objectives such as Focal Areas and Net Conservation Benefit. Wildfire, invasive species and infrastructure are the major threats to sage grouse habitat and they are all most effectively managed through grazing.”

According to the latest data from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ August 2015 report – Greater Sage Grouse Population Trends: An Analysis of Lek Count Databases 1965-2015, the number of male grouse counted on leks range-wide went from 43,397 in 2013 to 80,284 in 2015.  That’s a 63 percent increase in the past two years and contributes to a minimum breeding population of 424,645 birds, which does not include grouse populations on unknown leks.

“The results of these voluntary, local conservation efforts around the west are undeniable; habitat is being preserved and the sage grouse populations are responding,” said Richards. “Proper grazing specifically addresses the biggest threats to sage grouse habitat, while reduced grazing allows these threats to compound. To arbitrarily restrict grazing when it’s needed most is a recipe for failure. Local input and decades of successful, collaborative conservation efforts must be the starting point for future Federal involvement, not an afterthought as it is now being treated.”

Public lands ranchers encourage the BLM and Federal agencies to work with them to continue to conserve and protect sage grouse habitat.

A copy of Richards’ testimony submitted to the Subcommittee can be found HERE.

From the Great Falls Tribune: Death Camas Warning Issued in Yellowstone County

What is Death Camas and why is it killing Montana cows?

Source: Great Falls Tribune

David Murray, dmurray@greatfallstribune.com

 

Death Camas

The slender green plant is known as Death Camas, and given the right environmental conditions it can easily live up to its ominous name.

Over the past week, at least four cows in Yellowstone County have died after consuming lethal quantities of the plant. In one case a dead cow was found with a Death Camus plant still hanging out of its mouth.

“I have a producer that had three cows die in one night,” wrote Ag Extension Agent Steve Lackman in an email to Montana State University range scientist Jeff Mosely. “My producer tells me that the camas is the same height as the grass and they are eating it with the grass. My producer is alarmed and thought I may need to put out a warning to (other) producers.”

Significant concentrations of the toxic plant also have been reported in pastures in Custer County, though no livestock deaths have been attributed to it there. Range scientists are cautioning Montana livestock producers to keep on the lookout for Death Camas, warning that current environmental conditions are nearly perfect for a dangerous outbreak.

“It is something that comes around every year,” Chouteau County Ag Extension Agent Tyler Lane said. “It’s probably more common in years following drought because a lot of times after drought there isn’t very much carry-over grass from the previous year. The carry-over grass kind of helps buffer the toxins, so that even though (livestock) might eat the same amount it doesn’t reach a toxic concentration.”

“I think a warning to your producers is a good idea,” Mosely responded to Lackman’s email. “Death Camas is highly toxic in the spring, especially the underground bulb. When soils are moist, livestock can pull the bulb out of the ground and ingest it. Death Camas greens up earlier than most other plants, making it more palatable than other plants in the spring, thereby contributing to livestock eating toxic amounts.”

Death Camas has been a natural part of Montana’s prairie ecosystem far longer than cattle or sheep have grazed here. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Death Camas is a member of the lily family and can be found growing in pastures and fields from Texas to Alaska. Native American tribes were familiar with it, and were careful to avoid Death Camas while picking Common Camas, a native plant food source prized by tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest.

All parts of the Death Camas plant contain a steroidal toxin called Zygacine. Eaten in small amounts, Zygacine causes stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea. Swallow too much of it and the toxin in Death Camas will trigger varying degrees of paralysis and only rarely death. There is no cure for Zygacine poisoning.

Yet the risk associated with Death Camas is typically low. Given an adequate alternative food source, livestock will usually avoid the green Death Camas shoots. A unique set of environmental conditions have combined to make this year’s emergence of Death Camas a more immediate concern.

“The weather can play a role in the concentration of the toxins,” Mosely said. “The molecular structure of the toxins in many plants change depending on the barometric pressure. When the pressure goes low the molecular structure of the toxin changes into a more toxic form. A lot of time, right as storms are coming in, the plant develops into a more toxic state. Those are times when poisoning is more apt to happen.”

Less than two weeks ago a high-pressure system stalled over Montana, keeping temperatures unseasonably warm. That was followed by a fast-moving low-pressure system that brought a spring snowstorm to many parts of the state. Since then, the weather has remained cool and wet, a near perfect combination to promote the most toxic phase of Death Camas development.

“That fits,” Mosely said of recent weather patterns. “Death Camas is not the only plant that does that. Low Larkspur is also a plant that’s on these spring ranges and can be a problem sometimes.”

Mosely stressed that there is likely a narrow window through which Death Camas will remain a concern. As the grasses continue to mature they will quickly displace Death Camas as a significant grazing source. He recommends livestock producers make a general survey of their pastures, and if at all possible, delay turning animals out into pastures where a significant presence of Death Camas appears to exist.

“By delaying the turnout two things will happen,” Mosely said. “The Death Camas will get more mature and less palatable, and the grass will grow more so there will be more grass in the diet of the animals to buffer the toxin.”

Ranchers and sheep producers who’ve recently added new animals to their herds and flocks should take extra precautions.

“There is some evidence to suggest that the resistance to Death Camas poisoning is genetic,” Mosely added. “For producers who have purchased cattle outside of their immediate area and brought those cows in, those would be ones to watch and to be more concerned about.”

Over the long term, good land management remains the key to reducing the threat from noxious and toxic plants like Death Camas.

“It does become more abundant in pastures that are less healthy, and that don’t have as much grass,” Mosely said. “It’s a native species, but you can exacerbate the problem if you don’t take good care of the range.”

Beltway Beef discusses WOTUS with Scott Yager, NCBA Environmental Counsel

Chase Adams discusses legislative and litigation efforts against the EPA’s WOTUS rule with NCBA Environmental Counsel, Scott Yager.

Rancher Discusses Critical Habitat Designations

NCBA Federal Lands Committee Chair Robbie LeValley discusses the potential consequences of Fish and Wildlife Service’s recently finalized rule regarding critical habitat designations, which expands their ability to designate habitat.   – See more online.

 

Myths about Bison Management

Bison management in and around Yellowstone National Park is a very complex and controversial issue. Many groups, agencies, tribes, and individuals have strong opinions about how to preserve this iconic, genetically-pure population of native, wild animals. We don’t expect everyone to agree, but we do expect everyone to tell the truth.

Here are some common myths repeated by groups, individuals, and the media. If you care about bison conservation like we do, be part of the solution by recognizing fact from fiction.

Myth 1: “The National Park Service (NPS) will roundup 900 bison in the next few weeks.” Not true. This year, all the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) partners announced that their goal was to reduce the Yellowstone bison population by 600-900 animals. This reduction was to occur through both hunting and shipment to slaughter and research facilities. For full transparency, we announced this number early in the season so there were no surprises, but unfortunately people use the number to knowingly stir up additional controversy by saying 900 animals will be slaughtered in the next few weeks. In reality, nearly 400 animals have already been taken by tribal and public hunters outside the park, which has reduced the potential number for capture and slaughter to 200-500. As of March 4, 2016, we’ve captured approximately 150 animals that will be processed during the week of March 7th. We aren’t sure if additional animals will be captured this year. We will not capture or ship later than March 31st.

Myth 2: “The NPS is trying to hide what is happening at Stephens Creek.” Not true. We provide a lot of visual media to help people understand what occurs at Stephens Creek. This includes video Q&As with our lead bison biologist, a Flickr photo gallery, and video b-roll of operations. It’s true that the Stephens Creek facility isn’t open to the public. As an administrative area with various uses including a horse corral operation, a native plant nursery, a law enforcement firing range, equipment storage, and our bison handling facility, Stephens Creek is closed to the public year-round, not just during bison operations. This year, we held a tour of the facility and are offering opportunities for media and stakeholders to observe processing and shipping operations in person.

Myth 3: “Culling puts the bison population at risk.” Not true. Yellowstone’s bison population has grown steadily over the last 45 years: from 500 animals in 1970 to 4,900 in 2015. Due to high rates of survival and reproduction, the bison population can increase by 12 to 17% per year. Predation by wolves and bears has little effect on these numbers. Along with elk, bison are the most numerous large mammals in the park, and these culls will not alter that fact. In fact, we don’t know of any bison conservation herds in North America that are naturally regulated: all require population reduction by direct capture and removal or hunting. If met, the reduction target this year will only reduce the population by up to 10%.

Myth 4: “Animals are abused at Stephens Creek.” Not true. The safety of people and animals is our top priority at Stephens Creek. The Humane Society has evaluated the operation twice, and each time we’ve adopted their recommendations. These have included things like creating visual barriers (plywood walls) so the animals can’t see out of the corrals, and eliminating all nonessential people from the catwalks during processing. Two old photos are often used by other groups to depict handling practices at Stephens Creek. One shows a bison being held with a nose ring during brucellosis testing, a practice that has not been used in more than eight years (we now have a hydraulic chute that holds the animals relatively still during testing). The second shows a bison being carried by a front-end loader: a photo that was taken outside the park, most likely after a bison was shot by a hunter or hit by a car. Adult bison can be very large and heavy and often times require heavy equipment to move carcasses from vehicle accident scenes.

Myth 5: “The NPS has failed to explore other options.” Not true. We have a legal obligation to maintain the park’s bison population at 3,000 animals due to a 1995 lawsuit filed by the state of Montana, and the subsequent legal settlement that created the IBMP. To further complicate things, Yellowstone bison carry brucellosis (up to 40% of animals will test positive on a blood test, depending on age), and it’s currently against state and federal laws to move animals exposed to brucellosis anywhere except to approved meat processing or research facilities. IBMP partner agencies and tribes proposed the hunting of bison outside the park as the primary method for reducing the population. However, hunting has never been able to meet the reduction goals set by the IBMP, so capture and shipment to slaughter sometimes has to make up the difference. We are working with the state of Montana to update the IBMP (http://parkplanning.nps.gov/YELLBisonPlan), and we’re also working to establish quarantine facilities for bison (http://parkplanning.nps.gov/BisonQuarantine), but neither of these efforts provides options we can take advantage of right now.

Myth 6: “Native American tribes are not involved.” Not true.Native American tribes participate in the management of Yellowstone bison through year-round conversations with their IBMP partners, and through tribal hunts outside the park. We recognize that bison are an important cultural animal to the tribes as well as a source of food for Native Americans, so animals captured at Stephens Creek are transferred to tribal partners who arrange for shipment to slaughter and then distribute the meat and hides to their members.

Myth 7: “Yellowstone is catering to the livestock industry.” Not true. As mentioned above, we are legally obligated to follow the directives of the court settlement and the IBMP: the multi-agency effort that guides the management of bison in and around Yellowstone. Its members include:

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Intertribal Buffalo Council
Montana Department of Livestock
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Yellowstone National Park (National Park Service)
Nez Perce Tribe
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
Custer Gallatin National Forest (U.S. Forest Service)
Villainizing any one agency oversimplifies a complex issue: one that deserves the careful consideration of all concerned citizens. Each agency has a different perspective on the preservation of wild bison, so conflict resolution is an integral part of the conservation and management strategy.

Myth 8:“Brucellosis is not a threat.” Not true. People both understate and overstate the risk of brucellosis transmission. Transmission of brucellosis from bison to livestock is possible because in late winter, bison migrate to low elevation areas outside the park where livestock are concentrated. At the same time, bison are late in their pregnancy, and that’s the most probable time for a transmission event to occur should an infected animal shed the bacteria in the amniotic fluid and a susceptible animal subsequently licks the birthing tissues. The fact that there’s never been a documented transmission of brucellosis from Yellowstone bison to cattle doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Rather, the lack of documented transmissions is a testament to the diligent management efforts put forth by the state of Montana and the NPS to prevent co-mingling of bison and cattle during the time period when transmission is most likely. During the past 16 years, nearly 20 livestock operators in the three states surrounding Yellowstone have discovered a brucellosis positive reactor among their livestock. In each case, the transmission vector has been identified as wild elk. Therefore, elk also appear to be a significant risk to livestock interests across the ecosystem, yet receive very different treatment by state wildlife officials.

Source: National Park Service

Featured Article from NBCNews: Yellowstone Bison Cull

Source: Nbcnews.com
By: Mike Brunker & John O’Connor

The American bison is one of the nation’s most enduring symbols, a heritage that helps explain the outcry that erupts like Old Faithful each year over the selective slaughter of hundreds of the wild-and-woolly creatures when they attempt to leave Yellowstone National Park.

“The first time I saw a buffalo I cried,” said Stephany Seay of the nonprofit Buffalo Field Campaign, which has been fighting the culling and slaughter of the Yellowstone bison for 19 years. “… They’re hugely charismatic. I sometimes compare it to seeing a unicorn. You never get used to it.”

The bison — also known as American buffalo — have been the subject of a long-running dispute between the park service, animal rights activists, Native American groups and the state of Montana over their annual migration outside Yellowstone each winter in search of better grazing at lower elevations.

The problem is that when the lumbering herbivores leave the park they quickly run into livestock — no surprise in a state where cattle outnumber people.

Ranchers say the powerful animals, which can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, knock down fences, letting cows and horses escape from pastures, and damage other property.

“Once they’re determined where they’re going to go, there’s not much that can deter them,” said Errol Rice, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, which represents ranchers. “Fences, sprinkler systems, pipelines are really are no obstacle.”

A far bigger concern for the ranchers is that the bison could transmit the highly contagious brucellosis bacteria, which can cause cows to abort or deliver stillborn calves. Unless quickly contained, such an outbreak could severely damage the state’s cattle industry, which contributes nearly $2 billion annually to Montana’s economy.

“We need to preserve our brucellosis-free status as a state, which is a huge deal for cattlemen,” said Mike Honeycutt, executive director of the Montana Livestock Department. “… If there were to be a brucellosis problem, it could shut down the transportation of our animals out of state, which would limit their marketability tremendously.”

Concerns about the disease led the state to file a lawsuit against the park service in 1995 over the annual incursion of the bison onto state and private lands. A court-mediated settlement five years later created the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which requires that hundreds of bison be killed each year with a goal of maintaining the Yellowstone herd at 3,000.

The National Park Service hasn’t been able to meet that target through the annual culling of the herd, which involves a hunting season followed by a large capture-and-slaughter operation. The herd — the last continuously wild population of bison in the nation — currently stands at a modern-day high of 4,900 after having dwindled to just 23 bison in 1902.

This year’s cull began on Feb. 15 after hunters — members of four Native American tribes and those licensed by the state — killed about 300 bison. It will continue over the next several weeks with the aim of capturing and sending to slaughter between 600 and 900 bison.

If it approaches those numbers, it could be the largest cull since 2008, when a record 1,631 bison were captured, according to the Buffalo Field Campaign. All told, about 8,200 park bison have been killed over the last three decades, according to a tally by the Associated Press.

So far, though, the bison have not been cooperating.

After venturing near the Stephens Creek trap set up by the park service just inside the park boundary in early February, most of the herd returned to higher elevations because of warm, wet weather. The park service posse only managed to guide 24 of the animals into the big pens where they are still being held.

Jody Lyle, a spokeswoman for Yellowstone National Park, said it’s unclear what will happen if the bison don’t descend into the Gardiner Basin again before the scheduled end of the roundup on March 31.

“This is a very unpredictable process and it’s highly dependent on the weather,” she said, adding that, at the least, the 24 penned bison would likely be sent to slaughter once the roundup is officially declared to be over. The park service says that meat and hides from butchered bison are distributed among the four Native American tribes that traditionally hunted bison in the region.

Culling only two-dozen bison from the herd would be a big disappointment, said Brian Rouse, a rancher and director with the Montana Cattlemen’s Association, noting that missing this year’s goal would require an even bigger cull next year – and more bad publicity.

“You have to take care of whatever you’ve got,” he said. “You wouldn’t let your yard get six-feet tall and then start mowing. … You have to keep things healthy, you have to manage.”

As with many disputes in the West involving ranchers, environmentalists, the feds and the state, the rub lies in how you define a healthy ecosystem.

Seay, the anti-cull activist, argues that expanding the bison range would help “heal” the wounds from the “shameful history of nearly wiping buffalo out” in the 1800s.

“There is no such thing as surplus wildlife and surplus bison,” she said. “The buffalo are a keystone species that evolved on this landscape. They are the grass and the grass is them.”

But representatives of the ranchers and the state say the bison can’t be allowed to wander wherever they please.

“The big overarching concern is that we maintain the protection of our cattle industry and use a balanced approach to managing the ecosystem,” said Rice.

He also said the industry is eagerly awaiting a report by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences, which is currently reviewing all scientific literature on brucellosis and is expected to recommend the best prevention strategies soon.

Park service officials at Yellowstone estimate that about half of the bison herd has been exposed to brucellosis. That prevents them from reducing the size of the herd by transferring animals to other parks or tribal lands to add to the diversity of their bison herds, since that would require lengthy quarantines and repeated testing to be sure the bison were free of the disease.

If the National Academy of Sciences panel can come up with a better way of mitigating the risk of spreading the disease, “that could really be a game-changer,” Rice said.

But Seay, whose organization conducted a week of protests and demonstrations around the state this month to coincide with the bison cull, said brucellosis fears are overblown, noting that there “has never been a documented case” of bison spreading the bacteria, while there are numerous examples of elk infecting cattle.

She sees a different agenda driving the bison cull.

“The closer you look at this, it’s an issue about the grass and who gets to eat it and it’s the livestock industry calling the shots,” she said.

Honeycutt, the state livestock official, scoffs at the notion that brucellosis is a red herring, saying the lack of documented brucellosis transmission from bison to cattle merely shows that the state’s testing protocols and risk-assessment programs have been working.

“People say I’ve never met anyone with polio … well that’s because we had a very effective vaccination program that has eradicated the disease,” he said. “I would say something very similar about our brucellosis program.”

He also noted that in cases where elk transmitted the bacteria to cattle, aggressive quarantine and testing programs prevented the outbreaks from spreading.

In the meantime, opponents of the bison cull did have a reason to celebrate this week.

In December, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, announced that the state would open two areas totaling roughly 400 square miles to the north and west of the park, where Yellowstone bison will be able to roam freely.

“This decision is a very modest expansion of the conditions under which bison may remain outside the park, in response to changing science and changing circumstances on the ground,” he said in a statement.

Lyle, the Yellowstone spokeswoman, said that a longer-term bison management plan currently under discussion by all the stakeholders could “provide more options and a better future for the bison” when it is finalized.

“We’ve simply outgrown the current plan,” she said. “There’s so much more we know now about bison management, and we have more knowledge about brucellosis. And the plan needs to change.”

But no matter what options are eventually selected, that won’t eliminate the need to control the size of Yellowstone’s bison herd to ensure that there isn’t “a catastrophic event like a disease outbreak,” said Rouse of the Montana Cattlemen’s Association.

“As Americans we’ve got a real soft spot for wildlife and people can’t even entertain the idea that they have to still be managed,” he said.

MSGA Member Receives National Recognition

ahlgren
MSGA member, Larry “Skip” Ahlgren and Diane Ahlgren of Winnett, Montana received the National Association of Conservation Districts(NACD)/National Resources Conservation Service(NRCS) Olin Sims Conservation Leadership Award during the 2016 NACD Annual Meeting in Reno, Nevada. The Ahlgrens were recognized for their superior service to the conservation community and commitment to promoting and leading conservation on private lands. Diane serves on the Rangeland Resources Executive Committee for the Montana Department of Natural Resources. Larry serves as Secretary/Treasurer for the Grass Range Grazing District, as one of the Directors of the Williams Coulee Grazing District, and on the Board of Directors for the Montana Association of State Grazing Districts. The Ahlgrens ranch and produce cattle on their land in Eastern Montana.

Source: National Association of Conservation Districts