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Gianforte Opposes Controversial Decision - BLM Approves APR Bison Grazing In Phillips County

Gianforte Opposes Controversial Decision

In a controversial move, the Bureau of Land Management approved American Prairie Reserve’s application for grazing leases on 63,000 acres of land in Phillips County July 28. APR’s application has met with opposition from area ranchers since it was filed in 2018.

The group’s stated goal is to create “the largest wildlife reserve of its kind in the lower 48 states.” The reserve is intended for bison and other prairie species. According to the Montana Free Press, APR had $77 million in net assets as of 2020.

Governor Greg Gianforte issued the following statement in response to the BLM’S decision.

“As we review this decision, we share Montanans’ frustration with the BLM’s woeful and repeated failures to properly engage Montanans and act within the bounds of its authority on this issue,” Gov. Gianforte said. “The agency limited public comment to a single, virtual event in the middle of haying season, ignored repeated requests from state officials for full public engagement, and failed to analyze the full range of impacts of its proposal, which it lacks the statutory authority to enact. The State will consider next steps after a thorough review of BLM’s decision.”

BLM received over 2,700 comments regarding its environmental analysis of APR’s proposal, mostly in opposition to the plan.

Last September, Gov. Gianforte and leaders from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Livestock raised their concerns the agency.

Attorney General Austin Knudsen released a statement following the decision: “After shutting out public input from local communities, it’s not a surprise that President Biden’s Bureau of Land Management would rubber-stamp this radical proposal that is another step toward displacing northeast Montana’s livestock industry and replacing it with a large outdoor zoo. My office is reviewing the decision closely to determine our next steps to protect ranchers and ensure the State’s interests are upheld.”

Knudsen held a public listening session in Malta last year to hear from local agriculturalists, with more than 250 people attending.

BLM’s record of decision says that bison grazing is allowed on other BLM-administered lands throughout the west, including Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The agency argues that bison and cattle have differing grazing habits, with bison contributing to a preferable “patchy” distribution of plant species. Species such as sage grouse are expected to benefit from the change.

APR CEO Alison Fox told media that the decision will allow the group to expand its herd of bison by approximately 200 animals, leaving the overall total at approximately 1,000. According to BLM rules, applicants, permittees, lessees or anyone affected aversely by the decision can file an appeal within 30 days of the July 28 ruling.

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