Bison meetings on tap as environmental groups offer help with fence costs

2012-08-20T14:40:00Z 2012-08-21T16:52:04Z Bison meetings on tap as environmental groups offer help with fence costsGazette Staff The Billings Gazette
August 20, 2012 2:40 pm  • 

With meetings scheduled Monday night and Tuesday on allowing bison more room to roam outside Yellowstone National Park, four conservation groups are extending an offer to affected landowners to help pay fencing costs.

The Defenders of Wildlife, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club announced that they would reimburse 50 percent of the cost of fencing, up to $1,000 per landowner, for purchasing and installing fencing to keep bison off private property in the Gardiner and Hebgen basins.

“Our goal is to increase tolerance for bison in these important habitat areas,” said Jonathan Proctor, of Defenders of Wildlife.

The Montana departments of Livestock and Fish, Wildlife and Parks are holding a meeting Monday night in West Yellowstone and Tuesday night in Gardiner to discuss a proposal that would allow bison more room to roam outside the park's boundaries.

Specifically, the change to the Interagency Bison Management Plan would allow for year-round bison use in the Hebgen Basin, Cabin Creek Recreation and Wildlife Management Unit, the Monument Mountain Unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area, the Upper Gallatin River corridor and in the Gardiner Basin for bull bison only.

The meeting Monday night in West Yellowstone is from 6-8 p.m. at the Holiday Inn. The Tuesday night meeting is from 6-8 at the Gardiner High School Theatre.

Comments on the plan can be made through Friday. A draft environmental assessment is expected by late October with a final decision expected by mid-December.

The state is hoping to expand tolerance for bison outside Yellowstone, especially during wintert, when the animals naturally migrate out of the snowy park in search of food. In the past, bison have been hazed, corralled and sometimes slaughtered to limit their roaming.

Park County and livestock producers have sued members of the Interagency Bison Management Plan to halt the move to allow bison more room to roam. That case is still being argued.

Matt Skoglund, wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement that helping landowners fence their property to keep bison out is “an incredible opportunity to take a large step forward in how we manage and value wild bison.

“This can be a win-win situation for both people and wildlife — landowners avoid possible property damage and the bison can move more freely outside of Yellowstone like other native wildlife,” Skoglund said.

Mark Pearson, conservation program director with Greater Yellowstone Coalition, said, “The ultimate goal is not just to build fences to keep bison out, but to build bridges with local communities toward acceptance of this native species as valuable wildlife.”

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