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WHY PUBLIC COMMENTS ARE IMPORTANT – MSGA encourages its members to engage in the public comment process. This is an opportunity for you to be involved in the decision-making process happening within federal and state agencies, to offer your thoughts on alternative ways for an agency to accomplish what it is proposing, to offer your comments on the agency’s analysis of the environmental effects of the proposed action, and possible mitigation of potential harmful effects of such actions.

Check below to view current public comment opportunities.

The Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission is looking for public comment on two proposed maps to divide the state into two congressional districts – CP 10 and CP1. Written comments are particularly encouraged, either directly on interactive maps of the proposals or using the commission’s webform. Comments can also be submitted by email at [email protected], or by mail to Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission, PO Box 201706, Helena, MT 59620.

On Saturday, October 30, the commissioners will consider Montanan’s thoughts on two proposals – CP 10 and CP 11 – to divide the state into two congressional districts. In the afternoon of the 30th, the commissioners will select a single map for another public hearing on Thursday, November 4.

  • Comments received by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, October 27 will be provided to the commissioners that evening.
  • Comments received after that time but before October 30 will be given to the commissioners prior to or at the meeting.
  • Comments received on October 30 or during the meeting will be provided to the commissioners prior to their next meeting.

More details on that single map will be available after October 30. Agendas for both meetings are now online at the commission’s website and details are below.

October 30 – 9:30 a.m. – Room 102, State Capitol
November 4 – 9:30 a.m. – Room 317, State Capitol

For more information on the commission or the proposed maps, please visit the commission’s website.

Commission website: mtredistricting.gov/

About the maps:

CP 10 – Proposed by the Republicans

CP 10 excludes portions of Gallatin County from the Western District, while also excluding Lewis and Clark County. It includes the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and all of Flathead County in the West.

CP 11 – Proposed by the Democrats

CP 11 keeps Gallatin County completely intact. The map also puts Park County in the West as well as Lewis and Clark County. Congressional Proposal 11 divides Flathead County, putting Whitefish in the West, while Kalispell and the bulk of Flathead go the east. The proposal also puts the Blackfeet Reservation in the Eastern District.

The Montana Department of Transportation is updating the State’s Freight Plan. Safe and efficient movement of freight is vital to Montana Agriculture and our state economy. The Montana Department of Agriculture is requesting producers and agricultural stakeholders share their perspectives and participate in the freight plan survey to relay the significance of freight-related challenges and policy issues facing agriculture.

The deadline to submit the survey is Nov 5, 2021

Governor Gianforte and DNRC Director Amanda Kaster are keenly interested in understanding the challenges and successes of the 2021 fire season and how the DNRC can better position their organization to support and improve wildfire response across Montana.  DNRC is requesting MSGA members to participate in a brief 10-minute survey, MT DNRC 2021 Fire Year Survey. Collectively, these responses will help DNRC better understand where and how they can support ranchers, landowners and Montanans in the seasons ahead.

The survey will remain open until Friday, November 12.

MSGA remains dedicated to advocating on the behalf of producers for the delisting of grizzly bears. Conflicts between grizzly bears and livestock continue to increase and we feel it is important to continue work to reduce conflicts. Bear relocations should not put additional burden on livestock producers.

As a result of the passing of Senate Bill 337 (SB 337), the Fish & Wildlife Commission has voted to tentatively adopt proposed relocation sites for grizzly bears. SB 337 outlined FWP’s role in the relocation of grizzly bears. FWP may not relocate a grizzly bear listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, except to a release site previously approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission for relocation of grizzly bears. Additionally, FWP may respond to a grizzly bear causing conflict outside of a federal recovery zone; however, if the bear is to be relocated, FWP may not relocate the bear.

On Thursday, October 28th, the commission voted to tentatively adopt and open public comment on these proposed site. Public comment will be open through Monday, November 22, 2021, at 5 p.m., with final adoption at the December 2021 commission meeting. MSGA encourages those who have thoughts on the proposed relocation site to comment. If you have comments/thoughts on specific proposed sites that you would like MSGA to include in the organization’s comments, please reach out to Raylee at [email protected].

Comments can be submitted here: https://fwp.mt.gov/aboutfwp/public-comment-opportunities

  • Grizzly Bear Relocation Sites R1-5 Coversheet
    • Proposed Grizzly Bear Relocation Sites Cabinet-Yaak Document
    • Proposed Grizzly Bear Relocation Sites Greater Yellowstone Document
    • Proposed Grizzly Bear Relocation Sites NCDE Middle Document
    • Proposed Grizzly Bear Relocation Sites NCDE North Document
    • Proposed Grizzly Bear Relocation Sites NCDE South Document
    • Copy of Grizzly Bear Locations 1 Document
    • Copy of Grizzly Bear Locations 2 Document
    • Copy of Grizzly Bear Locations 3 Document
    • SB 337 Document

USFWS Moves to Rescind Definition of “Habitat” under the ESA

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have opened a 30-day public comment period on their proposed rule, which would rescind the definition of “habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Following historic concern that the ESA did not define “habitat” in statute as well as the 2018 Supreme Court Decision in Weyerhauser Co. v. U.S. FWS, the Trump Administration undertook a rulemaking to define “habitat”, for the purposes of designating critical habitat only, as: the abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.”

The definition was finalized in a joint regulatory process in December 2020. The 30-day public comment period will end on Friday, November 26, 2021.

USFWS Moves to Rescind Critical Habitat Rulemaking

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have opened a 30-day public comment period on their proposed rule, which would rescind the ability of agencies to consider exclusions to critical habitat, namely those on public lands requested by a grazing permittee, under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The proposed rule would rescind a rule finalized in December 2020 that amended Section 4(b)(2) of the ESA, citing concerns about transparency and limitations on agency discretion. The definition was finalized in a joint regulatory process in December 2020.

The 30-day public comment period will end on Friday, November 26, 2021.

Montana’s Livestock Loss Board is looking to revamp the loss prevention grant process and is requesting suggestions from Montana Ranchers to make the process easier for ranchers to apply. Give your ideas today!

In order to facilitate a new process, the board directed two of their members to come up with a new grant application. Elaine Allestad a rancher from Big Timber and Patty Quisno a rancher from Harlem have begun working on new grant requirements. Early thoughts in the process are lowering a cost share requirement for a grant match to make it more affordable. It’s not always a cash match for a cost share. It can be value for your labor such as installing an electric fence to help keep grizzly bears out of smaller pastures as just one example.

“The board’s philosophy has always been that a rancher will know what will work best for their own ranch. We will never tell you what you need to do to reduce predation. This is where you come in. If you have ideas that may help the board, we want to hear from you.” – George Edwards, Livestock Loss Board Executive Director

Ideas can be sent to [email protected]. Please keep in mind that our funding is restricted to non-lethal methods related to grizzly bears and wolves. 

The Livestock Loss board encourages public comment throughout their meetings and your input will help the board come up with better solutions In the future. 

A board meeting to discuss a new grant form will be held sometime during the week of October 11-15th. Meeting details can be found at www.llb.mt.gov.

ONGOING ISSUE: BLM’S DRAFT EA ON AMERICAN PRAIRIE RESERVE CHANGE APPLICATION FOR BISON

+ ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT

American Prairie Reserve (APR) has submitted a proposal asking the BLM to modify their grazing permits. APR is seeking changes in the class of livestock from cattle to cattle and/or bison and modifications to their season-of-use and construction and/or removal of range improvement projects. The project also includes adjustments to allotments (such as combining pastures) and administrative actions (such as issuing ten-year grazing permits). Comments regarding this environmental assessment should address the APR proposed alternative, Alternative B.

+ IN ALTERNATIVE B, APR IS REQUESTING TO

  1. Change the class of livestock from cattle to bison
  2. Change in authorized seasons-of-use
  3. Change to remove interior fencing and manage their private lands along with the public lands as one common pasture. This includes construction, reconstruction and/or removal of some fences and adjustments to allotments.
  4. Action from BLM to issue a ten-year grazing permits

+ BACKGROUND

On Sept. 24, 2019, the American Prairie Reserve (APR) submitted a proposal (an update to their earlier proposal submitted on Nov. 20, 2017) to modify certain terms and conditions of seven BLM-administered grazing permits held by the APR. APR’s original proposal sought permit changes for 18 BLM grazing allotments located in four counties. The APR’s updated proposal reduced the number of BLM allotments involved and requested and is only in Phillips County. 

Based on APR’s amended proposal and public input received during the scoping period, the BLM prepared a draft EA and FONSI for the following seven BLM allotments managed by its Malta Field Office: Telegraph Creek, Box Elder, Flat Creek, White Rock, East Dry Fork, French Coulee and Garey Coulee.

The public comment period will run from July 1 through September 28, 2021. The BLM encourages public review and comment on the Draft EA and FONSI by visiting the BLM’s ePlanning website at https://eplanning.blm.gov. Search using the NEPA number: DOI-BLM-MT-L010-2018-0007-EA. 

+ POINTS TO CONSIDER

  1. Is BLM making a special exception for this application due to the animals being bison?
  2. Bison are not included in the definition of livestock allowed to graze on federal land (see 43 CFR 4100.05-5). The Federal Grazing Regulations permit bison to graze on federal land only with a more-limited Special Use Permit. Should bison be allowed under this current proposal?
  3. Should there be consideration that APR’s bison are a conservation herd and not a commercial herd.
  4. How would BLM treat an application requesting removal of fences and season long grazing for cattle or sheep?
  5. If BLM approves this application, this is a precedent for similar applications to approve cattle allotment requests.
  6. A range management principle in general is – increase fencing (cross fences) and you increase carrying capacity because you have more control over the livestock’s movements. So the reverse should be true – decrease or remove fences and you lose carrying capacity because the animals will concentrate in their favorite or the best areas. 
  7. How will range monitoring be completed and documented to meet range standards?
  8. APR states that it has implemented a wildlife-friendly bison fence that does not inhibit wildlife movements, so is there a need to remove interior fencing?
  9. Has BLM considered a comprehensive approach to APR’s plan for bison restoration?
  10. Is an EA adequate or should an EIS have been completed?
  11. What are the socioeconomic effects the alternative will have on the local community?
  12. APR pays Department of Livestock per capita fees on the bison they own, classifying them as domestic livestock.

+ TAKE ACTION

The public comment ended on September 28, 2021. 

For any other comments or questions, please contact Jay Bodner or Raylee Honeycutt at the MSGA office at 442-3420 or email at [email protected] or [email protected]

+ IN ALTERNATIVE B, APR IS REQUESTING TO

  1. Change the class of livestock from cattle to bison
  2. Change in authorized seasons-of-use
  3. Change to remove interior fencing and manage their private lands along with the public lands as one common pasture. This includes construction, reconstruction and/or removal of some fences and adjustments to allotments.
  4. Action from BLM to issue a ten-year grazing permits

+ BACKGROUND

On Sept. 24, 2019, the American Prairie Reserve (APR) submitted a proposal (an update to their earlier proposal submitted on Nov. 20, 2017) to modify certain terms and conditions of seven BLM-administered grazing permits held by the APR. APR’s original proposal sought permit changes for 18 BLM grazing allotments located in four counties. The APR’s updated proposal reduced the number of BLM allotments involved and requested and is only in Phillips County. 

Based on APR’s amended proposal and public input received during the scoping period, the BLM prepared a draft EA and FONSI for the following seven BLM allotments managed by its Malta Field Office: Telegraph Creek, Box Elder, Flat Creek, White Rock, East Dry Fork, French Coulee and Garey Coulee.

The public comment period will run from July 1 through September 28, 2021. The BLM encourages public review and comment on the Draft EA and FONSI by visiting the BLM’s ePlanning website at https://eplanning.blm.gov. Search using the NEPA number: DOI-BLM-MT-L010-2018-0007-EA. 

+ POINTS TO CONSIDER

  1. Is BLM making a special exception for this application due to the animals being bison?
  2. Bison are not included in the definition of livestock allowed to graze on federal land (see 43 CFR 4100.05-5). The Federal Grazing Regulations permit bison to graze on federal land only with a more-limited Special Use Permit. Should bison be allowed under this current proposal?
  3. Should there be consideration that APR’s bison are a conservation herd and not a commercial herd.
  4. How would BLM treat an application requesting removal of fences and season long grazing for cattle or sheep?
  5. If BLM approves this application, this is a precedent for similar applications to approve cattle allotment requests.
  6. A range management principle in general is – increase fencing (cross fences) and you increase carrying capacity because you have more control over the livestock’s movements. So the reverse should be true – decrease or remove fences and you lose carrying capacity because the animals will concentrate in their favorite or the best areas. 
  7. How will range monitoring be completed and documented to meet range standards?
  8. APR states that it has implemented a wildlife-friendly bison fence that does not inhibit wildlife movements, so is there a need to remove interior fencing?
  9. Has BLM considered a comprehensive approach to APR’s plan for bison restoration?
  10. Is an EA adequate or should an EIS have been completed?
  11. What are the socioeconomic effects the alternative will have on the local community?
  12. APR pays Department of Livestock per capita fees on the bison they own, classifying them as domestic livestock.

+ TAKE ACTION

The public comment ended on September 28, 2021. 

For any other comments or questions, please contact Jay Bodner or Raylee Honeycutt at the MSGA office at 442-3420 or email at [email protected] or [email protected]

+ ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT

American Prairie Reserve (APR) has submitted a proposal asking the BLM to modify their grazing permits. APR is seeking changes in the class of livestock from cattle to cattle and/or bison and modifications to their season-of-use and construction and/or removal of range improvement projects. The project also includes adjustments to allotments (such as combining pastures) and administrative actions (such as issuing ten-year grazing permits). Comments regarding this environmental assessment should address the APR proposed alternative, Alternative B.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN SUBMITTING COMMENTS:

  1. Craft a “Substantive” Comment – a substantive comment is one that: 
    • Questions the accuracy, methodology or assumptions used in the analysis;
    • Presents new information or reasonable alternatives not analyzed; or
    • Causes changes or revisions.
  1. Support Your Point – This can be personal observations, experience or cited sources. 
  2. Avoid Vague Statements – Specifics help the agency to consider and evaluate the issue you have identified. 
  3. Provide Detail – Describe the issue, what can be done, the specific location, what resources are involved, etc. 
  4. Present Solutions – Include a potential fix to the problem you have identified. 

ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT

The National Environmental Policy Act “… is intended to help public officials make decisions that are based on the understanding of environmental consequences…” (40 CFR 1501 (c).) To achieve this, the EIS considers the effects of agency actions on social, economic and natural resources within the planning area. Citizens, such as yourself, often have valuable information about places and resources they consider important and the potential effects proposed agency actions may have on those places and resources.

COMMENT EXAMPLES

Examples of Substantive Comments  Examples of Non-Substantive Comments
Example 1:
“While we understand the desire to increase access to public land for recreational opportunities, we feel it is important to work with agencies and recreation groups to find acceptable solutions for all stakeholders. Additional recreation use results in added operational expenses for permittees, including weed management or fence repair. We recommend the inclusion of a statement that the Council will foster collaborative efforts to address conflicts and help reduce the costs for permittees.”Example 2:
“In short, the description of a species’ habitat must not be used as justification for the Services to regulate themselves into a position of authority across broad swaths of lands and waters where the agencies would otherwise have no authority.”
Example 1:

Simply disagreeing with a proposed action.

“I do not support Alternative B.”

Example 2:

Simply stating an opinion.

“Protect our resources!”

Example 3:

Commenting on items outside the scope or proposal.

“Please extend your office hours for those who work between 8-5pm Monday-Friday.”