Oped: FWP should stop free-roaming bison plan

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Photo credit: Bruce McKay

The Montana Department Fish, Wildlife, and Parks is on a strange mission to impose a free-roaming bison herd in Eastern Montana.  It’s puzzling because it’s a plan that few Montanans want, and a large, diverse majority oppose.  Yet, inexplicably, Governor Bullocks’ administration and FWP Director Jeff Hagener seem determined to give us a dose of a bitter medicine we don’t want or need.

The opposition to free-roaming couldn’t have been more evident at a recent FWP meeting on the issue in Lewistown.  One after another, ranchers, sportsmen, farmers, local business owners, and others voiced their objections to FWP’s proposal to move bison from Yellowstone National Park to an undisclosed location in Eastern Montana.

They spoke loud and clear that free roaming bison would be an economic hardship; lead to the destruction of property, forage, and crops; and put pressure on other native species.

Supreme Court’s bison transfer decision a big win for landowners

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Photo credit: USFWS

The Montana Supreme Court recently decided a lawsuit brought by landowner and multiple-use groups, including UPOM, against FWP for their transfer of Yellowstone Park bison to the Fort Peck Indian Tribe.  Our objection wasn’t that the bison were transferred, per se, but that FWP did not follow the law requiring landowner notification and collaborative planning before bison could be transferred.  We ultimately lost the case on the grounds that the legislature did not specify that that law applied to transfers to tribal property, in addition to public and private property.

However, we won on a much bigger issue.  In the decision, the Court pointed out that the bison in question were placed in captivity, and therefore no longer fit the definition of “wild bison.” Environmental groups have been proposing for years that Yellowstone Park bison that had been quarantined and proven brucellosis free could be used to establish a wild bison herd on public land in Eastern Montana.  But now that it is clear that quarantined bison cannot be called wild, then there are no bison available to establish a wild herd outside the Park.  We couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome in this case.

Oped: Property rights trump ‘public trust doctrine’ in Turner bison dispute

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Photo credit:  Nicolás Boullosa

By Professor James L. Huffman

In her report on Judge Holly Brown’s dismissal of a challenge to the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks agreement with Ted Turner on the management of Yellowstone Park bison (Bozeman Chronicle, May 12, 2013), the Chronicle article states the following: “Under the public trust doctrine, which applies nationwide, the state has the responsibility to manage and maintain resources like water and land for public use and future generations.”

Only in the dreams of the petitioners does that summary of the public trust doctrine have any relation to the law. Even in Montana, where the public trust doctrine was dramatically revised 30 years ago in two Montana Supreme Court cases, the doctrine has never been found to apply to wildlife or beyond the waters of the state.

The public trust doctrine originated in the English common law as a guarantee of the public right to fish and travel for commercial purposes on navigable waters. In England, navigable waters were limited to those affected by the tides. In the United States, in recognition of the extensive network of navigable inland waterways, the public trust doctrine was generally held to include all waters “navigable in fact.”

Glasgow Courier: County Joins Bison Lawsuit

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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.