Guest opinion: Montana's historic opportunity for wild bison restoration

2012-05-19T00:05:00Z Guest opinion: Montana's historic opportunity for wild bison restorationBy JIM POSEWITZ The Billings Gazette
May 19, 2012 12:05 am  • 

When Lewis and Clark found the part of Montana now known as the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, they were overwhelmed by the abundance of wildlife, especially bison. Capt. Lewis vowed in his journal to speak no more of the incredible numbers for fear no one would believe him. Seventy-nine years later they were gone   — all of them. Now, 128 years later, we have a shot at restoring a remnant of the grandeur.

Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has scheduled a series of meetings as the first step toward developing a statewide plan for managing wild bison.

Today wild bison persist in a few enclaves, including Yellowstone National Park and the Henry Mountains of Utah. Descendants of wild bison mostly live behind a fence in a few refuges but mostly as privately owned livestock.

Montana pioneer Granville Stuart chronicled the breathtaking speed with which bison and other game were swept from the Judith Basin, writing:

“It would be impossible to make persons not present … realize the rapid change that took place … in two years,… In 1880 the country was practically uninhabited. One could travel for miles without seeing so much as a trapper’s bivouac. Thousands of buffalo darkened the rolling plains. There were deer, antelope, elk, wolves, and coyotes on every hill and in every ravine and thicket. In the fall of 1883 there was not one buffalo remaining … and the antelope, elk, and deer were indeed scarce.”

The near-extinction of buffalo and other game animals kindled America’s hunter-conservationist movement. With leadership from Theodore Roosevelt and other prominent conservationists, sportsmen rallied to support hunting regulations; end the commercial slaughter; promote wildlife management; and protect habitat. They then taxed themselves to pay for conservation.

Today, more than a century, later you can find deer “pellets” on the lawn around Montana’s state Capitol and goose droppings on every golf shoe in the country. We’ve been so successful at restoring and managing wildlife that many people aren’t even aware of how close we came to losing them all. Anyone who’s come of age in Montana over the past generation might easily assume that game has always been plentiful.

The benefits of wildlife restoration range from ecological integrity to food on our tables as well as values that feed the spirit. The job is one species short of being finished.

We won’t ever see wild buffalo in the numbers that awed Captain Lewis. Nor will our developed landscape prove hospitable to them in very many places. But surely we can find some home on the range for this iconic animal. One of Montana’s great virtues is that we always found space to accommodate what we value. If there’s any place where bison can and should be restored, it’s the wild million-acre plus C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will soon hold meetings to help shape an environmental assessment for a wild-bison management plan. It will give us all a chance to help decide that restoring wild, free-ranging buffalo is worth doing. We can address bison restoration as both a moral responsibility and a historic opportunity. There are certainly potential problems but we have found an equitable way with other wildlife. We can do it with bison.

Conservation advocate Jim Posewitz of Helena is a retired executive director of the Cinnabar Foundation and founded Orion – The Hunter’s Institute.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(11) Comments

  1. bigskynative
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    bigskynative - May 23, 2012 3:45 pm
    Bison are not elk. Trying to confuse the two is like comparing elephants to gazelles.....
  2. bigskynative
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    bigskynative - May 22, 2012 3:09 pm
    No misinformation here. Go to the park and see the damage where buffalo congregate. The greens call it nature UNLESS cattle do it, and cattle can be moved. Wild Bison cannot. Bison raised for Bison burgers are not the same as wild bison from the park. Obviously your wheat and alfalfa fields are not going to be trampled by free ranging bison. Myself and my countryman are going to have to pay to have them hazed back to CMR. Another yellowstone tragedy waiting to happen. Nuts.
  3. bigskynative
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    bigskynative - May 22, 2012 7:23 am
    Why create a problem when you don't have one? If you want a bison, go buy one from a bison rancher because if you think they are going to let you hunt them without another slew of million dollar lawsuits, forget it. We were told the same story with the wolves. I like to eat bison also, but cows are cheaper, and they can be moved from one area to another without overgrazing.
  4. BPCR
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    BPCR - May 21, 2012 1:48 pm
    It's boils down to "what's mine is mine, and what's yours (public land and grass) is mine".
    No one is going to make money off of public buffalo and that hurts...(some people). Plus the tired adage that "we've always done it that way". Once somebody get's the idea that trespass permits and trophy B&C bison go together, that'll change.
  5. BPCR
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    BPCR - May 21, 2012 1:41 pm
    Oh yeah, the same olds saw....The "big brown boogeyman" bison is going to end the world...the chicken-littles are running amok. There always has to be a boogeyman to keep those "dues" rolling into the coffers. With bison meat prices climbing, it's time to make more buffalo! Bring the buffs back and start issuing tags!
  6. bigskynative
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    bigskynative - May 21, 2012 11:36 am
    If it does happen the only ones who will have to pay is the people who live in the area. I guess that does not include yourself......The rest of us will pay with more government trying to keep the bison in some areas, sut like we do with yellowstone now........It is about the dollar also.....its called making a living. maybe try it sometime.
  7. buffalo2bob
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    buffalo2bob - May 20, 2012 11:17 pm
    Big Sky Get your facts right before you go spouting out mis information. I have been around bison for over thirty-six years ( raising them in the production end of the industry. Bison do not hang around in ripirian areas they go to water 2x times a day get their drink and leave. They also utilize there feed more efficiently than cattle. why do people always think that bison will be going through fences? Bison will stay where you put them as long as they have food water and minerals
  8. hikertrash
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    hikertrash - May 20, 2012 10:18 pm
    Bigs-Natural predator-prey relationships do fluctuate. So what? Your lack of education is showing. Take an ecology class, that is balanced and natural.

    Your generation sure f'd things up, environmentally speaking. All in the name of the dollar. Good for you. Mine will fix it. Good for us.

    The sand is quickly disappearing from your hour glass. Can't happen soon enough...
  9. bigskynative
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    bigskynative - May 20, 2012 2:40 pm
    Sure. Then the wolves can destroy cattle that people rely on for income also. Besides, it has been proven that wolves don't affect Buffalo numbers. Look at the park. The thing hiker and his eco buddies do not understand is that there is no such thing as a balanced ecosystem. It twitters from one extreme to the other, and until you have lived long enough to see it it, no amount of education can explain it to you.
  10. hikertrash
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    hikertrash - May 19, 2012 9:35 pm
    Big-Good point. I guess we need wolves there too. You know, to balance the ecosystem.
  11. bigskynative
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    bigskynative - May 19, 2012 7:35 pm
    and you sir are out of your mind......I have covered a bit of CMR and seen the damage done to riparian areas by too many elk. Look on any ridge side where the trees grow and you will see the riparian areas about gone because of to many elk. I hear people talk about cattle causing damage....they have no idea what elk do also. You want bison? They will see out the best places to feed on the refuge and once that is gone will move onto private land. Here we go again....another buffalo roundup.

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