Broke Down Buffalo

If I were a buffalo, I’d be broke down and in the bottom of a bottle of whiskey after this week up in Helena.

The Montana Legislature continues to try and finish the job that the buffalo hunters and railroad men of the 19th century didn’t quite finish.

This week, 4 bad bison bills emerged from committee. Some of them even contradict themselves.

HB 484: This monstrosity by Representative Alan Redfield would turn the clock back to the 1980’s. Upset by their recent court loss, the Montana Farm Bureau convinced Representative Redfield to run this bill as an attempt to blow apart the compromise bill that was SB 212 from the 2011 session. Redfield and the Farm Bureau aren’t content with the extremely rigid rules put in place by both SB 212 and the IBMP when it comes to buffalo wandering outside of Yellowstone or when the state finally decides to transplant a few buff here and there. Redfield’s bill would essentially end hunting of Bison outside of Yellowstone National Park, erode all the work that the Bison Working Group has engaged in (which was full of Stockgrowers and Farm Bureau folks, by the way) and it would push Montana’s management of bison back to the stone ages while forcing more and more litigation simply to throw out a bad bill and leave back where we started. It passed out of committee by a wide margin.

HB 396: This bill hands veto authority of transplanting bison over to County Commissioners. A bill strongly backed by the Montana Stockgrowers Association, HB 396 would turn wildlife management on its ear by allowing one county commissioner to say “not here, not ever,” when it comes to wild bison on tribal ground or public land. This bill hits the floor soon. It’s the same bill as HB 318 from the 2011 Session, one that Governor Schweitzer took his branding iron to.

SB 256: This bill specifically exempts bison from the concept embodied in the Rathbone decision; that wildlife is a part of Montana, and folks need to expect reasonable use of wildlife on their properties. The sponsor of this bill stated that Bison haven’t been a part of Eastern Montana for a long time, and therefore the rules don’t apply to them. Truth is, Elk weren’t in Eastern Montana for a long time until they were transplanted. Rather than the fear and loathing we see with Bison, we fight over who gets to shoot the elk in the Breaks, fight over limited permits for archery hunting, and in general, have seen how wildlife can be a huge economic booster for those communities so blessed with the problems associated with abundant wildlife. SB 256 ignores all of that as the sponsor rails about bison running down the streets of Malta.

SB 305: This bill specifically disallows the transfer of classification of domestic bison to wild bison. It’s another bill borne out of fear. Fear that the American Prairie Reserve would turn over genetically pure bison that came from wild herds back to the state so they can use them for small herds in geographically isolated areas.

Every bison bill we’ve seen this session has one thing in common: Fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change and fear of anything that’s not related to the status quo. They also have something in common: A complete lack of common sense.

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