Montana BHA provided the following comments verbally at a virtual Bureau of Land Management hearing on Wednesday, July 21st.
Good afternoon, my name is Thomas Baumeister. I serve on the board of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers -- we represent 3,000 dues-paying members in Montana alone and care deeply about public lands, public fish and wildlife, and public access.
I am here today to offer support for BLM’s decision, specifically Alternative B, to approve a request to graze bison on public lands. Montana BHA supports this decision for a variety of reasons, but above all, I am here today because science tells us that bison are an integral part of functioning prairie ecosystems and, as such, provide notable benefits to the health and productivity of this invaluable habitat.
As a fundamental premise, dynamic vegetative communities make up Montana’s diverse prairie ecosystem. This diversity is an important driver of prairie wildlife relying on healthy, functioning, and productive grasslands. However, the elimination of bison from the landscape (along with frequent fires) has disrupted this prairie community, leading to a decrease in plant diversity.
As described in the BLM’s EA: “It is anticipated that, with the introduction of bison, existing vegetation communities could experience improvements in vegetation community species richness and diversity”. Alleviating the pressures on riparian areas found in this semi-arid landscape is key, and Alternative B would accomplish that. We find this compelling. As an additional benefit, removing 30 miles of interior fencing would decrease wildlife habitat fragmentation. We welcome the removal of any unnecessary fencing on our public lands.
Ultimately, each of these habitat improvements, as discussed in the EA, will directly benefit the state of Montana, its wildlife resources, and the public, for whom these resources are held in trust. And since our federal public lands are to be managed for multiple use, we see no reason why bison grazing should be precluded especially when it could offer ecological benefits and generate commensurate fees to the BLM.
In a broader sense, Montana BHA supports the reintroduction of native bison to the prairie ecosystem; conserving/managing it as a wildlife species held in trust by all Americans; and creating opportunities for public access and enjoyment including hunting - and we look at this proposal for grazing bison on public lands- Alternative B - as the single most important step in promoting this larger vision.