The Montana Association of State Grazing Districts (MASGD) and Montana Public Lands Council (MPLC), recently submitted comments to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in response to a request by the American Prairie Reserve (APR) to change class of livestock from cattle to bison and to remove interior fences on Flat Creek Allotment in south Phillips County.
These organizations, along with Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA), National Public Lands Council (PLC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), do not support the changes requested by APR.
In the application submitted by APR to the Malta Field Office, requests were made to change the class of livestock allowed on the grazing allotment from cattle to bison. APR seeks permission to remove interior fencing and manage their private lands along with the public lands as one common pasture. The request also included changing the allotment grazing season to year-round from the current May 1 – Nov. 15 grazing.
Change the class of livestock from cattle to bison
Given the APR’s plan for bison restoration on a desired millions of acres of contiguous land, the local, state and national livestock organizations request BLM consider a comprehensive review of bison management, before allowing additional change requests to occur.
APR’s application for class change from cattle to bison appears to be a simple request for a change of livestock. However, BLM’s decision to convert grazing leases from cattle to bison represents a significant management change, which requires consideration of many other factors beyond the conversion of grazing from one livestock category to another.
Removal of Interior Fencing
The request to remove all interior fencing has raised considerable concerns in the livestock communities. In recent years, BLM has supported range management plans that utilize cross fencing, which allows livestock producers to increase carrying capacity and maintain additional control over the livestock movements. Removal of interior fences decreases management options and reduces carrying capacity when animals concentrate in desired areas.
Mr. Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch in Gallatin County provides a prime example of this type of management action and reversal. During an interview in reference to his book (Last Stand, 2013), Turner described how he sought to “re-wild” the land and help the bison by tearing down all the fences on the ranch’s 170 square miles.
A few years later, Turner recognized the grazing management strategy was not working as planned. The ranch replaced some of those same fences to better manage bison grazing. A similar situation would exist should APR’s request be permitted on the Flat Creek Allotment.
Questions are raised for the need to remove interior fences when APR reports the success of wildlife friendly fences already in existence. APR’s website promotes its replacing of old fences and constructing “new fences designed specifically to manage bison and allow for the free movement of wildlife.”
BLM generally allows for very limited permits where year-round grazing is allowed. This application questions whether this is a special exception due to the animals being bison.
Concerns should be raised over the magnitude of this allotment management change, including how range monitoring will be completed and documented to meet BLM range standards. With the possibility of no interior fences and year-round grazing, it will be difficult for BLM to address range conditions that are not meeting standards and take corrective actions.
An additional concern is the impact this request may have on sage grouse and the pending decision on the status of the species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While grazing is certainly compatible and beneficial to sage grouse, it is important to implement grazing practices based on sound management principles. BLM has typically supported, encouraged and, in most cases, required grazing systems that allow for control of domestic livestock in a form of rest-rotation systems.
These time-controlled grazing practices tend toward increased herbaceous cover on rangelands, which is beneficial to wildlife and the resource itself. Given the importance of this potential listing and reduced options to address resource concerns, livestock organizations recommend BLM deny this request.
From the local, state and national level, MASGD, MPLC, MSGA, PLC and NCBA are directed and made up of ranchers representing the West’s livestock producers. The livestock organizations’ missions are to maintain a stable business environment for ranchers that utilize combined state, federal and private lands so that ranching families may continue their traditions of livestock production and stewardship.
Many of the requested changes in this grazing allotment have raised a number of resource concerns that these livestock organizations feel have not been fully vetted and analyzed by the BLM. Given these concerns, local, state and national livestock organizations request that BLM deny APR’s application for the proposed changes to the Flat Creek Allotment.