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Chris Merker, retired biologist in Lewistown

CHRIS MERKER

The Bureau of Land Management is looking to analyze a proposal from the American Prairie Reserve. The agency has asked for a list of substantive issues to consider as part of their analysis of impacts of the APR’s proposal to shift some public lands grazing allotments, where they have grazing privileges, over to bison.

It’s important the public not just offer unsubstantiated opinions and hearsay but provide relevant facts and issues to analyze. For example, APR proposes to permanently remove 250 miles of old interior fencing, and would also replace another 250 miles of perimeter fencing with wildlife-friendly fence style that is documented to be much safer. With the significant fence modifications, it would be possible to quantify the positive benefits to wildlife species and numbers, such as sage grouse, raptors and pronghorn.

That’s why I would encourage the BLM to use real-world examples and look to other areas of the West where bison grazing is an established practice on public lands.

As a former bison owner, I know that grazing bison when done correctly and stocked at the appropriate levels, can bring significant benefits to the wildlife and the public. APR has already offered bison hunting to the public. This would greatly expand under their vision.

These benefits not only include maintaining rangeland health and increasing wildlife habitat for outdoor enthusiasts, but also increasing visitation to public lands and creating new economic opportunities. In Yellowstone National Park for instance, half the visitors say bison is a significant reason for coming. Other areas of the West with conservation bison herds provide sustainable sources of revenue for local communities, unlike the boom/bust cycle of extractive industry. We could certainly use a little economic diversification in central and northeast Montana. If you have been to Yellowstone Park, you enter through the gateway communities of Gardiner, Cooke City, West Yellowstone, Red Lodge and Cody. These are vibrant, exciting communities in which to live, work and play. The old buildings have been restored to their former grandeur. All the storefronts are occupied. New restaurants, outfitters, breweries, etc. have established. Imagine what APR’s privately-funded efforts could do for Zortman, Malta, Glasgow and Lewistown.

Thank you to the BLM for creating a thoughtful process that will ensure transparency and allows local citizens and folks across Montana and America to meaningfully participate on issues impacting our shared public lands.

Chris Merker, of Lewistown, is a retired wildlife biologist.

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