Knudsen Asks Panel To Overturn Bison Decision
HELENA â€“ Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen has asked a federal board to overturn the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision to grant a permit change allowing bison grazing in Phillips County. The permit is a part of the American Prairie Reserveâ€™s broader effort to expand bison grazing on the plains across northern and eastern Montana.
Knudsenâ€™s appeal asks the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Hearings and Appeals to overturn the decision and issue a stay until the appeal is resolved to prevent irreparable harm to the grazing allotments and surrounding communities.
â€śThe BLMâ€™s decision ignores the real concerns of rural communities and ranchers who rely on the land in favor of elitist attitudes of those seeking to transform Northeast Montana into a wildlife viewing shed for tourists. Agriculture is not an easy way of life, but Montana ranch families â€“ including my own â€“ are proud of their history and heritage that is still a part of our state today,â€ť Knudsen said. â€śAs American Prairie Reserve occupies more and more land here, it pushes out ranching communities, threatens our livestock industry and will ultimately add to the instability of the worldâ€™s food supply.â€ť
Knudsen noted that BLMâ€™s decision violates the Taylor Grazing Act, Federal Land Policy, and Management Act, Public Rangelands Improvement Act, which all aim to improve public range lands and uplift ranching communities. Conservation bison grazing would directly undermine these legislative goals. Additionally, BLMâ€™s process in issuing its decision ignored numerous concerns and legal deficiencies raised by commenters and violated the Administrative Procedure Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
Grazing indigenous animals like bison can be accomplished through special use grazing permits, but BLM gave APR preferential treatment through bypassing that permit process, upending its statutory scheme and prioritizing outside groups over Montana ranchers.
â€śFew (no) cattle ranchers raise cows for the sheer glory of the bovine form, for their symbolic connection to American history, or for their contributions to the natural environment. But thatâ€™s precisely what APR intends to do here - manage a bison herd for purely conservation, ecological, and nostalgic ends. Bison arenâ€™t livestock under federal law,â€ť the appeal states. â€śSuch a shift in the use of the land harms not only ranchers - who can no longer use this federal land to graze their livestockâ€”but entire rural communities who depend on livestock operations to earn their own living.â€ť
BLM held a single virtual meeting â€śin the middle of the day, in the middle of the work week, in the middle of haying season - a time and format that precluded the participation of those individuals most impacted by the proposal and most likely to offer salient feedback.â€ť
Last September, Knudsen held a public listening session in Malta. More than 250 Montanans came to the meeting, including many local agriculturalists who said the BLM effectively ignored and shut them out from its public comment process.