The Bureau of Land Management has released a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for a bison grazing proposal from the American Prairie Reserve on 69,000 acres of BLM grazing allotments in Phillips County.
In November of 2017, the APR submitted a proposal to modify terms and conditions of 18 BLM administered permits, which was revised to 7 grazing permits in September of 2019. APR requested from BLM a change in class of livestock for cattle and bison, changes to the authorized seasons-of-use, construction, reconstruction and/or removal of some fences and adjustments to allotments (such as combining pastures).
In the spring of 2018, the BLM conducted public scoping which included meetings in Northcentral Montana. The BLM received 2,497 submissions which they reviewed and considered in determine the issues to be included in the NEPA analysis.
Now the BLM has come back with their analysis of the proposed action and has found that it conforms with their Resource Management Plans. The bureau has determined the changes will not significantly affect the land, wildlife or human environment.
Jay Bodner, Executive Vice President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association told Northern Ag Network that the announcement of this decision raises a lot of concerns from the livestock industry.
“Certainly, from a resource management standpoint, which we take a lot of pride in our stewardship of our rangelands, we’ve moved away from these kind of grazing practices,” Bodner says. “It seems to be moving our grazing systems back 30 years. So, there’s a lot of concern from just the rangeland health standards.”
“Secondly, it looks like if a livestock producer would have made this proposal, I’m not sure if it would have been met with the same kind of decision that this one is dealing with bison.”
Bodner adds that in previous documents that the BLM had released, they had recognized that with year-round grazing and removal of interior fencing there was a high likelihood of resource damage in those riparian areas. However, in this assessment BLM found no significant impacts.
“One of the challenges we see with this proposal,” Bodner says. “is that if you remove a lot of that infrastructure, to be able to address any kind of resource damage, you basically have to rebuild fence to try to move animals around. So that’s going to create a lot of challenges to address any potential challenges that may arise.”
This has been a controversial topic for 4 years now and Bodner says the MSGA membership will be engaging in the discussion and making public comments.
Sidney, MT rancher and President of the Montana Stockgrowers Jim Steinbeisser commented that, “Our organization has consistently provided comments outlining concerns regarding the impacts a request like this can have on rangeland health, riparian areas and economic impacts to the livestock industry. Today’s release of the draft EA and Finding of No Significant Impact is very impactful to ranchers across the state. This assessment may have a much larger ripple effect moving forward on setting precedent for public land grazing permits.”
“The fences represent a significant monetary investment in improvements, and if this change in grazing management proceeds, BLM must analyze what steps will be taken to address any resource damage”,” continued Steinbeisser. “We feel many of the request changes in the draft have significant resource impacts and have not been fully vetted or analyzed by the BLM.”
Before the Environmental Assessment can be finalized the BLM will conduct a public comment period running from July 1st through August 29th. Comments can be submitted online and a virtual public meeting is planned for Wednesday, July 21 from 1-4pm.
“Even if people can’t attend the virtual meeting, we still hope they’ll visit the ePlanning website to read the Draft EA and FONSI, and provide thoughtful, substantive comments,” said BLM Malta Field Manager Tom Darrington. “All comments received will be reviewed and considered by our interdisciplinary team.”
The public may comment on the Draft EA and FONSI by visiting the BLM’s ePlanning website at https://eplanning.blm.gov. Search using the NEPA number: DOI-BLM-MT-L010-2018-0007-EA. Public comments may also be submitted via the U.S. Postal Service addressed to: BLM Malta Field Office; Re: APR Grazing Proposal; 501 South 2nd Street East; Malta, MT 59538.
Northern Ag Network/BLM