I was a range management specialist for the Malta Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field office for more than 30 years.
After retiring in 2007, I was hired by the American Prairie Reserve. As such, I’ve had considerable professional experience managing range land health and closely observing the impacts of bison on range health in Montana. APR has been and will continue to be held to the same required BLM standards and guidelines as other permittees regardless of their type of livestock, season of use, or grazing system. All of this has led me to support APR’s bison grazing proposal.
What I have observed and learned is consistent with what other land managers across the West have, at low to moderate stocking levels, bison can maintain and even improve the health of the land and they don’t need rotational grazing management to do it. This is true in part because bison move more than cattle, graze further from water, and spend less time at water.
BLM stocking levels on the APR grazing allotments in the proposed actions are at low to moderate stocking levels as per Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) method for calculating stocking levels.
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In addition, APR is voluntarily proposing to stock their deeded land at lower stocking levels using the NRCS method of stocking level calculation. Using that method, if APR chose to stock their deeded land at moderate levels they could have an additional 700 bison and at high levels they could have another additional 650 bison. This lower stocking was proposed to ensure enough forage is provided for wildlife and to be better prepared for drought years. APR also has written contingency plans for drought, flood, heavy snow, and wildfires and has the resources and expertise needed to implement those plans and to respond appropriately to these events.
I have worked closely with APR employees and know their dedication and commitment to being responsible livestock managers and good neighbors.
APR deserves fair treatment, just like any other permittee seeking to modify their grazing permit. They aren’t asking the BLM to rewrite grazing rules, but to consider a grazing strategy that other livestock operators in the West have been approved for and have used successfully.
Finally, I’d like to point out it is in the best interest of others with BLM grazing allotments to encourage BLM to treat this process fairly. That means ensuring an adequate level of analysis and public input, without bogging down the process with red tape. Those recommending too much government process or political meddling might be establishing a new precedent for all permittees requesting changes to their own grazing applications in the future.