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Some Montana lawmakers oppose "free-roaming" bison, fearing disease and destruction. Proponents say that fear is misguided.
Lawmakers in Montana are moving forward with a proposal that backs restricting bison movement around the state amid concerns over grazing and the spread of disease.
House Joint Resolution 28 urges the federal Bureau of Land Management to reject a request for a year-round grazing permit from nonprofit organization American Prairie Reserve. The request, filed last April, asks for a 10-year permit that would allow bison on a large plot of land, switch grazing from seasonal to continuous and remove interior fences.
That request is part of the nonprofit’s larger goal: to construct a wildlife and conservation preserve of more than 3 million contiguous acres in Montana—complete with bison native to the Great Plains.
The nonprofit owns the land it’s asking to graze, but opponents of the request say that “free-roaming” bison could damage neighboring private property and contaminate cattle herds with brucellosis, a disease that can lead to high rates of failed pregnancies among livestock.
The resolution is a way to “ensure that we as a body support our agricultural community,” Rep. Dan Bartel, a Republican from Lewistown who introduced the bill, told the Billings Gazette.
The nonprofit’s vice president Pete Geddes responded to those claims in an op-ed in the Billings Gazette, saying the resolution was instead a “thinly veiled attempt” by a property rights organization to use the “coercive power of the state to attack the property rights of APR.”
“HJ28 is misguided, mean-spirited, and factually inaccurate,” Geddes wrote. “It should be stopped.”
Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer agreed, saying in his own op-ed that the resolution lacked scientific basis and is a prime example of “big government and socialism.”
“This socialist philosophy of picking winners (cattle) and losers (bison) is silly. What happened to freedom? What next?” he wrote. “Ban Charlois and Limousine breeds because they have French names? Ban Corrientes cattle because they are Mexican? Only allow whitefaced sheep? Only allow Border Collie cow dogs (my favorite)?”
The resolution passed the House of Representatives 59-40 and moves next to the Senate.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.