The Valley County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to join other plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at halting Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ transfer of quarantined Yellowstone Park bison to the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations.
The lawsuit alleges that FWP violated Montana law by enacting a bison translocation plan without a having a management plan and without adequate analysis of the impacts upon the human environment. SB 212, passed by the legislature in 2011, establishes multiple requirements for FWP in the management of bison that the lawsuit alleges are not being observed.
There are 15 plaintiffs, including Jason and Sierra Stoneberg Holt and Rose Stoneberg, who ranch on Timber Creek south of Hinsdale. Also listed are people representing Citizens for Balanced Use, United Property Owners of Montana and Missouri River Stewards, plus some ranchers in Blaine County. The defendants are FWP director Joseph Maurier, Montana FWP and the FWP Commission.
In Tuesday’s discussion, the commissioners objected most to being bypassed in the cooperation and consultation phase of the bison transplant. They said FWP did not contact the four affected counties at all, and have not adequately planned for proper fencing or dealing with likely escapes.
“The state of Montana is running over us again and I’m sick and tired of it,” said Commissioner Dave Pippin. “We support the tribes’ having bison but that doesn’t give FWP permission to go outside the written law. They should do the right thing.” He said they should have done an environmental impact study and called their plan half-baked.
“If FWP had worked with the counties, that would be the end of it,” Commissioner Dave Reinhardt said. “They have to cooperate and coordinate with us but they don’t have to do what we say.”
Commissioner Bruce Peterson said he voted against the motion because of a private property issue.
“We shouldn’t have bison running around Valley County,” he said. “But the tribes have private property. We’re cutting them off from getting bison. We have no business where they get their bison.”
The county commissioners wrote a letter of protest after the FWP Commission approved the transfer of 68 Yellowstone bison in December of 2011.
In other business, the commissioners approved a resolution that puts on the June 5 primary ballot a permanent 1-mill levy to raise about $25,000 a year for the Pioneer Museum. They also voted to put up for vote a 1-mill levy for two years to fund the Valley County fair.
Commissioner Reinhardt reported on his attending a session on wolf management, where he was the representative farthest from wolf country. He said FWP recognizes that there are too many wolves, and recommends a longer hunting season with no quotas and no districts. The cost of an out of state license would be dropped from $350 to $50. FWP sold 81,000 licenses but hunters killed fewer than 200. This year 260 wolves were killed by hunters, ranchers and in accidents, but there are an estimated 600 wolves, when only 350 are needed to sustain a recovered population.
Fort Peck Mayor John Jones asked the commissioners to begin thinking about how to ease the financial strain on the town when the Keystone XL pipeline comes and man camps are built. The rural water district has already run a line to a site on Highway 117 by the MDU gas plant, he said. The town’s waste water lagoon serves the 232 residents, but couldn’t handle another 300 to 900 people. A $1 million new settling pond would be needed, which could also serve Idlewild, Park Grove and other developments, enhancing the value of the property. TransCanada will probably pay for some of the cost, but not all of it, Jones said.
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