BUFFALO ROAM

Wandering bison causing trouble in Gardiner

2011-04-21T00:15:00Z 2011-04-21T15:43:22Z Wandering bison causing trouble in GardinerBy BRETT FRENCH Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
April 21, 2011 12:15 am  • 

GARDINER — Joe Sperano Sr. doesn't blame the bison for the torn-down fencing or the irrigation pipes that have been bent in the past few weeks.

"I'm not an anti-wildlife guy," he said while standing in his driveway Wednesday. "I live in the wrong place for that."

What angers Sperano is that landowners along the Yellowstone River, north of this national park gateway town, haven't had a say in a newly revised bison management plan that allows the animals to roam more freely in the Gardiner Basin. The basin is a corridor along the river, which is where Sperano has lived for the past 35 years.

"Seems like everyone has a say in this except for the stakeholders," he said. "They just keep sticking it to us."

"They" is a coalition of federal and state agencies and Indian tribes involved in bison management.

Sperano's problem will be short-lived this spring, as the Montana Department of Livestock began pushing bison back into the park on April 15.

"It's been pretty much a daily activity," said Steve Merritt of the DOL. "They just keep coming back out and we keep pushing them back in."

There were 700 to 800 bison between Mammoth, Wyo., inside Yellowstone National Park, and Corwin Springs, north of the park, as of Wednesday, according to Dan Hottle of the National Park Service.

"We are working to disperse that group as much as we can," Hottle said. "We're still two to three weeks behind green-up (inside the park)."

Sperano isn't the only landowner in the Gardiner area angered by the change in the bison management plan. Pat Hoppe, whose family goes back seven generations in the Gardiner Basin, also feels poorly treated.

"You look on the other side of the river and the Royal Teton Ranch got more than $3 million (for a lease to cross ranch property), and we on the east side got nothing," he said. "They never even talked to the east side landowners."

"You know it wouldn't cost nearly three million to buy my cows," said Bill Hoppe, who is Pat's brother and runs cattle in the Gardiner Basin. "Nobody has even asked me what it would take to get my cows out of here."

Bill Hoppe isn't opposed to the bison being in the basin so much as he is to the damage they've caused to his fences and the horses they've injured.

"If they want to fence the buffalo off of my property, they can put them where they want," he said. "They can stack 'em up 500 feet deep. But I don't wish them on my neighbors."

Because the issue is so divisive in this small community, some people declined to talk on the record. Others, like Greg Strauss, who runs an inn, said he doesn't have a problem with the animals but understands his neighbors' concern about damage to their property.

"Let's spend a few bucks, put up fences and help people," he said.

Sonny Adkins, who has lived in Gardiner for 50 years, said bison wandering around town is no big deal — he just works around them and lets them do what they want.

"They're only here because they need some food," he said. "It's been a pretty tough winter."

Adkins said the animals should be allowed to roam freely on national forest lands outside the park, but was concerned about the damage the bison can cause to private property.

Pat Hoppe's mother has kept scrapbooks on the bison situation for years. He had just thumbed through them, reading some of the articles, and was shaking his head.

"The sad part is this story is (it's) 40 years old and they are saying the same thing they said 40 years ago," he said.

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