During the four years that he spent working on a documentary about Yellowstone National Park's bison herd, Doug Hawes-Davis said he was continually pressed about whether he was for cows or for bison.
"I don't see it that way at all," he said. "I see no reason we can't have public bison herds and still have cattle."
Hawes-Davis' film, "Facing the Storm," will air on Montana PBS on Thursday, April 28, at 7 p.m. Hawes-Davis' High Plains Films, based in Missoula, finished production on the story last fall, just in time for a Kansas film festival.
To Hawes-Davis, the controversy over bison management is just one part of the larger story of the relationship between humans and bison.
As the film explains, many American Indian tribes were closely associated with bison, which provided them with many of the necessities of life -- food, clothing and shelter. After Euro-Americans nearly wiped out the once-plentiful bison, Yellowstone's small herd of about 25 animals became a core of genetic purity that helped restore the animals. They now number in the thousands in Yellowstone Park alone.
The problems that now arise with bison are largely over the disease brucellosis, carried by bison as well as elk, that can cause pregnant cattle to abort. Cattlemen are set against granting bison more room to roam, even though elk wander freely.
In the film's interview with Gov. Brian Schweitzer, he stated that it's not so much an issue about disease as it is a fight over which animals get the grass -- bison or livestock. High Plains has posted the entire Schweitzer interview on its website.
Schweitzer's comments surprised Hawes-Davis.
"We did not know exactly what he would say, but we didn't expect such strong opinions," he said. "I appreciate that honesty, regardless of what side of the table people are on."