HELENA, Mont. – Governor Greg Gianforte today announced a settlement agreement that ends litigation between the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) and United Property Owners of Montana (UPOM).
“Under the previous administration, FWP didn’t do right by farmers, ranchers, and private property owners. In its effort to spread bison across parts of Montana, FWP didn’t do enough to account for the impacts to local communities and relied on outdated data,” Gov. Gianforte said. “This settlement agreement protects our livestock producers and rural lands and reaffirms the state can and should do better going forward.”
“FWP is committed to engaging communities and stakeholders on the impacts of decisions like this. We’re grateful to have this lawsuit behind us,” said Hank Worsech, director of FWP.
In January 2020, FWP issued a Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Bison Conservation and Management in Montana (EIS) and an associated Record of Decision. In March 2020, UPOM filed suit against FWP alleging the agency violated MEPA, MAPA, and environmental impact review requirements during the EIS process.
In the settlement agreement, FWP and UPOM agree the Final EIS failed to adequately consider disease transmission between bison, livestock, and other wildlife, there was an inadequate public comment opportunity, and the Final EIS relied on outdated data, among other things.
“This is a huge win for property owners in Montana. We’ve successfully blocked the introduction of free-roaming bison for at least the next decade,” said UPOM Policy Director Chuck Denowh. “This is a major setback for the American Prairie Reserve and their plan to impose wild bison on their neighbors and on our public land.”
Through discovery related to the lawsuit, Denowh says that UPOM learned that FWP officials were in active negotiations with the American Prairie Reserve to establish a free-roaming bison herd in Central Montana. Documents obtained by UPOM indicated urgency to strike a deal prior to the end of Governor Bullock’s term.
“If we hadn’t sued FWP over this bison plan there’s little doubt we would have a herd of free-roaming bison in Central Montana today.” said Denowh. “It’s chilling to think that FWP was engaging in secret negotiations with an out-of-state special interest group to impose free-roaming bison over the strong objections of local stakeholders.”