Governor Gets Final Say in Year Round Bison in Montana

Source: Northern Ag Network

If the Montana Department of Livestock and the Fish Wildlife and Parks can’t come to agreement on an issue of bison management, the governor gets to decide is the advice that the Montana Attorney General’s office is giving the Board of Livestock (BOL).  In this case, it means that Yellowstone Park bison will get to be in Montana year round.
In April, the BOL had received a letter from the governor stating that since they had been unable to come to agreement with the Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) regarding a management change to the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IMBP) to allow year round tolerance for bison in West Yellowstone and Gardiner, the governor would make the final decision and sign for them.

The BOL followed up to the Montana Attorney General’s Office, requesting a legal opinion regarding the legal roles of the agencies and the govenor in deciding the bison tolerance zone.  The AG’s office has responded with a confirmation of the Governor’s statement, that “on bison management issues, the two departments, Department of Livestock and FWP, must cooperate, and any management conflicts are resolved by the Governor.”
Mike Honeycutt, Executive Officer of the Department of Livestock outlined the AG’s response.  “The Department of Livestock has powers and duties to manage bison when they present a disease risk.  The Fish Wildlife and Parks has responsibility to manage wild bison when are not a disease risk.  If there is any potential for disease risk, FWP is supposed to cooperate with the Department of Livestock in that respect.”

“At the end of the day, if those two agencies can’t to come to an agreement on precise points of policy and how to get things done, the governor, as the executive of the state, has the power to make the decision for the agencies, tell them that this is where the lines are going to be and this is how each agency is going to carry out its legal responsibility around that decision that the governor has made,” Honeycutt said.
“I know that may not be an answer a lot of people in our industry want to hear.  I think they might have wanted to hear that the park boundary is the park boundary and that’s where we are supposed to push bison to,” acknowledged Honeycutt.

The BOL also asked for help to clarify the department’s responsibilities in bison management in the new tolerance zone.  The AG’s office responded that the state statutes in place are very clear.  Whether the border is the park boundaries or the new tolerance zone, the DOL’s job is to prevent disease transmission from the bison to cattle.

Honeycutt explained, “Our job, at this point from the Department of Livestock, is where maybe the old boundary was pushing all bison back to the park, our job now making sure that bison stay in the zones where they have tolerance and that our employees are keeping the separation between them and the cattle herds that will be grazing for the summer.

Honeycutt said “We are still in the position of making sure we maintain separation between potentially diseased bison and where cattle herds will be operating at.”

“We do not want potentially diseased bison occupying, in any shape or form, the same space that’s going to be occupied by summer grazing cattle.”

CLICK HERE to read a copy of the letter from the Attorney General’s office

MSGA Comments on Yellowstone National Park Quarantine Facility



Yellowstone National Park has recently released an Environmental Assessment to develop a bison quarantine facility on the Fort Peck Reservation. MSGA has reviewed this document and it is our determination that the proposal lacks any factual cost estimates, scientific rigor or even the number of bison that would enter into the facility. MSGA will continue to influence this issue on behalf of the ranching community as brucellosis remains a major concern for our industry and the state of Montana. Our full formal comments and recommendations to Superintendent Dan Wenk are linked below.

The comment period was extended through February 29, 2016; we encourage our members to submit comments through YNP’s website. Please contact the MSGA office or with any questions or concerns

2016 YNP Bison Quarantine Comments


Montana Stockgrowers Association Drafting Formal Comments in Response to Environmental Assessment


Montana Stockgrowers Association Drafting Formal Comments in Response to Environmental Assessment

Helena, MT – February 8, 2016 –Yellowstone National Park has recently released an Environmental Assessment (EA) to develop a bison quarantine facility on the Fort Peck Reservation. MSGA has reviewed this document and has determined that further action is needed. MSGA is drafting formal comments and requesting a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for a more comprehensive look into this facility.

The MSGA has determined that the EA is incomplete as it does not include factual cost estimates, scientific rigor or adequate disease testing. It fails to include the costs that would be associated with the facility, the capacity of the facility or where funding would come from. These financial implications should be studied further to determine feasibility.

The disease, brucellosis, remains a threat to cattle producers in Montana. The EA only requires the recipient of the bison to test them within 30 days of arriving at the facility.  Following the initial test, it is only recommended the animals be tested every 30-45 days.  A previous quarantine study has shown that 17% of the animals that initially tested negative for brucellosis converted to positive. This lack of required disease testing could prove problematic as it puts Montana at risk for a spread of brucellosis, which is currently confined to the Greater Yellowstone Area.

With significant risks left unaddressed by the EA, the MSGA believes that an EIS would be in the best interest of Montana and help address unanswered questions. MSGA will be submitting formal comments as well as requesting the full Environmental Impact Study that is necessary to fully study the effects of this facility.

The deadline to submit comments is midnight MDT February 15, 2016.


Kori Anderson

420 N. California St.

Helena, MT 59601



The Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) is a non-profit membership organization that has worked on behalf of Montana’s cattle ranching families since 1884.



Comment Period Opens on DSA Boundary Adjustment; Public Meeting Set for July 2

DSA-map2_closeupPublic comment on expanding the state’s Designated Surveillance Area (DSA) for brucellosis to include a 365-square mile chunk of land between Norris and Three Forks (see map) opened late last week.

The Montana Board of Livestock at its last meeting approved putting the proposal out for review after learning that 10 of 60 elk in the corresponding elk hunting district (HD311) recently tested positive for exposure to brucellosis. State veterinarian Dr. Marty Zaluski said brucellosis-positive elk were not previously known to exist in the area, which is home to about 50 cattle producers and 12,000 head of cattle.

Created in 2010 with extensive input from the livestock industry and USDA-APHIS, the four-county (Beaverhead, Gallatin, Madison and Park) DSA is designed to prevent the spread of brucellosis and protect the marketability of Montana cattle. Cattle within the DSA are subject to additional testing, vaccination and identification requirements.

If approved, the boundary adjustment would be the third since the DSA was implemented in January 2010. Other adjustments occurred when brucellosis-positive elk where found in 2011 and 2012 on the western edge of the DSA in Beaverhead County.

The department will host a public meeting at 10 a.m. on July 2 at Headwaters Livestock Auction in Three Forks to discuss the proposal. Public comment will be accepted at the meeting, or can be submitted via email at or via US postal mail at Christian Mackay, 301 N. Roberts St., Room 308, P.O. Box 202001, Helena, MT 59620-2001.

The public comment period closes July 12.

Board of Livestock Indefinitely Tables Action on Bison Environmental Assessment

Montana Department of Livestock DOLThis week the Board of Livestock met in Helena for their May meeting. One of the major items on the agenda was to review proposals from Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and the Department of Livestock (DOL) on an Environmental Assessment that would allow more tolerance of Yellowstone bison on its western boundary.

Click here to listen to this podcast on SoundCloud.

Since the beginning of the Bison Environmental Assessment, MSGA has submitted extensive written comments supporting a no action alternative. The Board of Livestock (BOL), during its three previous meetings in January, March and now May, have also discussed this Environmental Assessment in great detail. In particular, there was an addendum to the EA, which allowed for a population objective that would trigger whether or not Yellowstone bison could come into the state of Montana.

We were very pleased today that the BOL voted unanimously to table indefinitely the subject of the bison EA. While MSGA was very grateful that the DOL, FWP and the Governor’s office were very transparent and allowed us to have adequate input into this proposal and hear our suggestions quite seriously, we still are not able to support the proposal as it was written.

MSGA has continued a close working relationship with the DOL on issues that are important to ranchers across the state of Montana. Moving forward we will be working with the state agencies on a future IBMP plan and encourage ranchers across the state to work with MSGA to provide their input.

Brucellosis in the state of Montana is not going to go away anytime soon. The big call to action for the ranching community and the members of MSGA is to think critically about how to manage the complexity of this issue of brucellosis as it persists in Yellowstone bison, migratory elk, and how it affects our ability to raise commercial cattle in southwestern Montana.

In the next several months and years to come, the state of Montana is going to be engaging in a full-fledged Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to rewrite the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) from its current version, which was adopted in 2000. Under this process, Governor Bullock and the administration will be taking the lead on what the inputs to this plan will look like from the state of Montana’s perspective. MSGA certainly looks forward to engaging proactively in the process and getting input from our stakeholders at all levels so that we can provide credible information into how to best develop a management plan or bison as relates to the state of Montana.

One of the most immediate and best ways to engage in this conversation is to attend MSGA committee meetings, in particular our Cattle Health subcommittee, which will be meeting in Miles City on June 14. Our team will be having a very comprehensive discussion about brucellosis in bison and elk, as well as our own designated surveillance area for the state of Montana. Ranchers may also send or e-mail your comments to MSGA office and let us know your thoughts on how we can best develop a more comprehensive management plan for the state of Montana at all levels of the brucellosis debate.

For more information on attending our June policy meetings, you can go to the website,, and find details on our Mid Year meeting in Miles City. We can also be reached by phone at (406) 442-3420.

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MSGA works to ensure ranchers’ voices are heard on bison management

Helena – On April 14, the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) attended an open house in Gardiner, Mont. hosted by the Interagency Bison Management Plan partners to discuss their “adaptive management adjustments” that would allow bison to roam freely outside of Yellowstone National Park in the Gardiner basin. A formal agreement on the adjustments was finalized by the partners with no input from the local citizens or area ranchers who would be affected. MSGA’s Executive Vice President, Errol Rice, and chairman of MSGA’s Cattle Health Committee, Dr. Dick Raths, attended the open house to ensure Montana ranchers’ voices were heard on the issue. Several area ranchers joined with many local concerned citizens to voice their disapproval of the plan.
Rice toured the Gardiner area earlier in the day to see first-hand the effect of the bison.
“What we really saw was chaos on the ground with a tremendous amount of bison out in the greater Gardiner basin area and what appeared to be a real lack of leadership by the Interagency Bison Management Plan partners,” Rice said.
Rice said further that although MSGA understands the IBMP partners’ desire to adapt their management, their lack of transparency leaves ranchers very concerned. While the partners hosted an open house, they did not release the plan prior to the meeting or give a forum for public comment on the plan.
“They are really on shaky ground because they have no support from Montana ranchers or the ranching community at this point, due to their lack of transparency and accountability to our concerns with the issue,” Rice said. “Montana ranchers do have a lot at stake with the brucellosis issue and we’ve sacrificed a lot already.”
Rice said that based on viewing the situation first-hand and attending the open house, MSGA is opposed to the adjustments for the Gardiner basin.
“We are not only asking the IBMP partners to revoke this Gardiner basin adaptive management plan, but to also demonstrate leadership and ensure ranchers voices are being heard on this,” Rice said.