Mark Twain quipped, “No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”
In Montana, a state where political proclamations supporting property rights and limited government are ubiquitous, it is disheartening and disturbing to find HJ28, a joint resolution requesting denial of American Prairie Reserve's grazing proposal to the Bureau of Land Management. HJ28 is a thinly veiled attempt by the United Property Owners of Montana, a group formed to protect only the economic interests of its members, to use coercive power of the state to attack the property rights of APR.
The prospect of using the force of the Montana Legislature to attack, by name, a private business engaged in lawful activity should give serious pause. Were the Legislature to speak on this issue, it would chill the property rights of all those with similar privileges depending on the same standards APR does.
HJ28 makes a series of wild claims, none of which are supported by evidence. So outlandish were some that the House Agriculture Committee amended the resolution, striking about 40 percent of it, before passing it on a party line vote. It now faces a hearing in the Senate.
The sponsor of HJ28 is trying to circumvent the National Environmental Policy Act process we have been dutifully following that ensures the public and local elected officials have an opportunity to participate. During a 60-day public comment period, the BLM received nearly 2,500 comments and over 80 percent of them supported our grazing proposal.
HJ28 claims APR’s proposal for year-round bison grazing and removal of pasture fence represents “special treatment” by the BLM and will result in resource damage. Neither of these assertions withstands even casual scrutiny.
Anyone with federal grazing privileges has a right to request modification of their grazing permit terms, so long as rangeland health requirements are maintained. There are thousands of BLM grazing permits across the West with year-round grazing for cattle and sheep. The BLM noted in the Glasgow Courier, on April 25, 2018:
“We’ve heard from a lot of folks that they feel we’re giving unfair treatment to APR. Well, I would say to that, … any operation out there that says they want to adopt something akin to what APR is doing … bring us a proposal. Come in, show us what your proposal is … and that at the end of the day that you meet standards and guides. We’ll absolutely consider that.”
Year-round grazing is an established grazing system proven to protect rangeland, soil, and riparian areas when used with low to moderate stocking rates, which APR has proposed. In national parks and wildlife refuges and in state parks and preserves, year-long grazing with bison is done without resource damage.
APR has over a decade of experience with year-round bison grazing on public lands. A 2016 BLM assessment determined that resource health has been maintained and even improved, a decade after we first used this grazing strategy in Montana.
APR is not the enemy of Montana’s agricultural communities. The economic and demographic trends challenging rural America are rooted in external forces such as global trade, federal farm and tax policies, and the dynamics of globally integrated commodity markets.
$8.6M local spending
In fact, since 2002, the Prairie Reserve has contributed nearly $39 million to the area economy, spending $8.6 million in local communities over the last four years. Since 2015, we have paid more than $332,000 in taxes to counties in the project area. In 2018, APR spent $1.4 million in Phillips County, $1.3 million in Fergus County, $261,000 in Blaine County and $24,000 in Valley County for a total of nearly $2.9 million.
HJ28 ignores that in 2018, over 27,000 APR acres were enrolled in the state’s Block Management program. We also currently lease grass to 12 producers and have around 3,500 head of cattle grazing on our leased land.
HJ28 is misguided, mean-spirited, and factually inaccurate. It should be stopped.