April 13, 2006
Governor presents bison plan to West Yellowstone landowners
By Ted Sullivan
WEST YELLOWSTONE - Landowners here expressed skepticism Wednesday about Gov.
Brian Schweitzer's bison-management plan.
They told the Democratic governor that the problem with bison leaving Yellowstone
National Park and wandering out into the state's cattle fields belongs to the
park, and the solution ought to be coming from federal officials.
"We're dealing with a federal problem," landowner Ray Stinnett said.
"We're the solution to what the United States should be handling."
But federal officials aren't taking responsibility, Schweitzer said.
Instead, he has proposed the state pay Montana ranchers to remove their cattle
from grazing grounds in the West Yellowstone area and the Gardiner basin.
In addition, he wants a bigger bison hunt to reduce the bison herd to a manageable
The combination would save the state money it now spends hazing and slaughtering
bison, as well as help preserve Montana's brucellosis-free status, Schweitzer
told the small group of landowners who gathered to meet him at the Holiday Inn.
"It doesn't make any sense to haul (the bison) up and bring them to slaughter,"
Schweitzer told the ranchers as they sat around a large conference table.
"We're putting the entire cattle industry at risk," he said. "I
think we can do it better, and I think we can do it cheaper."
Landowners said they appreciated Schweitzer's visit and his willingness to
hear their opinions on bison issues, but they had their doubts about his plan.
Mike Manship, owner of Red Creek Ranch on Hebgen Lake, told Schweitzer bison
should be placed into their natural environment in eastern Montana, or at the
very least, moved to public land somewhere else.
But Schweitzer countered that, "Through a hunt, we can control that population
on this end. We can get that down to a manageable number. A lot of people want
to shoot these bison."
How many bison could be killed in a hunting season, a landowner asked Schweitzer.
"Well, we hauled 1,000 to slaughter this year," Schweitzer responded.
"That doesn't make any sense."
Asked whether a bison hunt could create a tourist boycott and bad press from
national media, Schweitzer said people will still come to Montana.
"If people were going to be angry with us, then they would have been angry
with us this year when we sent 1,000 of them to slaughter," he said.
But a bison hunt near West Yellowstone could lead to trespassing, property
damage and dead bison remains left on private property, Manship said.
Manship then asked the governor what he should do when bison are in his front
Schweitzer told him he could call an agency to remove them.
"I've heard that one before," Manship responded.
Despite a few differences of opinion, the landowners and Schweitzer agreed
something must be done before bison spread brucellosis to Montana's cattle,
ruining the state's beef industry and brucellosis-free status, they said.
"We're going to lose our brucellosis-free status; it's just a matter of
time," Schweitzer said. "We have a mixing zone."
Schweitzer's proposal is a 10-year plan, he said. Meanwhile, scientists, park
managers and government agencies could work on other options for the future.
"We're open for discussion," Schweitzer told the landowners. "We
just want to lay some stuff on the table."
As Schweitzer left the conference room to take a short helicopter trip to Gardiner,
where he also planned to meet with area ranchers, he told the landowners he would
be back again.