By LILLY BROGGER/Montana State News

Ranchers and environmentalists have long been at odds over bison management and a recent ruling has revitalized concern. Bison will now be allowed to roam in the area surrounding Yellowstone National Park in Montana year-round.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock issued the statement in November, which has created strong reactions. While many environmental groups are excited about the decision, ranchers in the area and across the state, strongly oppose the decision due to concerns over brucellosis.

Prior to the decision, bison in Montana were tolerated in specified areas surrounding the park. Bullock’s ruling expands this area. According to Bullock’s decision notice, bison will be allowed year-round access to Horse Butte.

Since 2000, bison have been tolerated year round in the Cabin Creek Wildlife Management Area and Monument Mountain. Bison will not have access to the Madison River near Yellowstone. Bull bison will have year-round access to the Gardiner Basin, running from the northern boundary of Yellowstone to the southern entrance of Yankee Jim Canyon.’

The decision notice also says that hazing will be used to deal with unwanted contact with cattle, damage to private property and other issues. The notice also outlines specific numbers of bison that will be roam outside the park during each season—specifically, 450 in the winter, 600 in the spring, 250 in the summer and 450 in the fall.

Environmental groups, like the Natural Resource Defense Council, voiced strong support for the decision. In a press release they stated, “Wild bison have largely been blocked from staying in Montana year-round like other wildlife due to a concern by livestock interests that brucellosis, an introduced disease that can cause infected pregnant animals to miscarry, may spread to domestic livestock from the migrating wild bison, despite the incredibly small potential for infection and the management tools available to prevent such a transmission from happening.”

Allowing bison outside the park brings up issues of management. The decision states, “The presence of brucellosis prevents YNP bison from being directly transported elsewhere to establish conservation herds, so managers will continue to retain existing population management tools beyond hunting, for example, trapping and shipping bison to slaughter as necessary.”

Agricultural organizations have voiced serious opposition to the proposal. John Youngberg, the Executive Vice President of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF), said that for members of the organization, the issue comes down to risk, precedent and cost. Bison infected with brucellosis increase the risk of cattle becoming infected with the disease, which causes females to abort.

Youngberg said that with the increasing population of bison, the animals continually need more space. This grass is vital for ranchers. Youngberg also said that when the Department of Livestock and Fish Wildlife and Parks are short on funding, adding cost to those organizations does not make sense to MFBF members.

“The governor has stated that this will cost less. We’re having a hard time understanding this,” said Youngberg.

Brucellosis appears to be the most direct concern for area ranchers.

“It increases the risk to the cattle industry,” said Youngberg.

The area being opened up for bison is part of the Designated Surveillance Area, meaning that cattle in the area are already under increased monitoring for brucellosis. Since brucellosis became an issue in Montana, ranchers in other states have become cautious about buying Montana cattle.

– Edited by Sara Saxton

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