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Support the American Prairie Grazing Proposal

The American bison is making a historic comeback on Montana’s prairie. We need your help in asking the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to support the restoration of bison and Montana's wildlife.

American Prairie Reserve is working to save the rapidly disappearing shortgrass prairie ecosystem. Central to that mission is the restoration of a large population of plains bison, which are now gradually making a comeback after being absent from the land for more than 100 years. But for the herd to reach its full potential, we are asking the federal and state government to provide access for bison to graze some public lands where we have grazing privileges.

Submit a Comment

The BLM has advanced American Prairie’s request to graze bison on some public lands in Phillips County. The BLM’s initial findings conclude that the proposed action will not have a significant environmental impact on the land and “will benefit local wildlife, improve land and water quality, and create new local jobs, all without impacting the value of the ranching economy.”

Please comment today in support of Alternative B, the proposed action. View a sample letterComments are due by September 28, 2021.

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

In addition, we encourage you to speak in support of Alternative B at a virtual public meeting to be held on July 21st. To attend this zoom meeting, please pre-register as soon as possible to guarantee your spot.

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ABOUT THE PROPOSAL

American Prairie is requesting to expand bison grazing on five Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing allotments and five State grazing leases, which we currently hold. It would authorize American Prairie to graze bison seasonally, and behind fences, on public lands totaling approximately 48,000 acres. It would also authorize year-long grazing for a single BLM allotment and one state lease covering 12,000 acres in an area previously approved for bison grazing.

The proposed action originates from a larger grazing application submitted to the BLM in 2018. That application was scaled back in 2019 as part of an effort by American Prairie to establish more common ground, share more information, and build longer-term constructive relationships with cattle producers in the region.

The BLM is now entering a 90-day public comment period before moving forward with a final decision. During the 2018 scoping period, American Prairie’s grazing proposal received robust public support from hunting and public access groups, wildlife scientists, local residents, former land and wildlife managers, economists, private property advocates, and supporters of grasslands from all around Montana and the country.

To learn more about this proposal, please read our Frequently Asked Questions.

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Grazing Proposal FAQs

What is being requested?

American Prairie is requesting to expand bison grazing using pasture rotation on five BLM grazing allotments and five state leases, totaling approximately 48,000 public acres. The revised application also requests a small demonstration project to further showcase the sustainability of year-long bison grazing. Approval of this project includes authorization of year-long bison grazing for a single BLM allotment and one state lease covering 12,000 public land acres in an area that has previously been approved for use by bison. This is an approximately 80% reduction in the scope of the original request.

What about fences?

American Prairie is proposing only slight modifications to interior fences to improve pasture conditions for bison. We continue to propose reconstruction of exterior fences and some interior fences to meet Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks wildlife-friendly standards.

Why was the application revised?

The original proposal to BLM for year-long continuous grazing on 290,000 acres was based on sound science and received more than 2,000 supportive public comments. However, we recognize the growing need to resolve concerns and provide more opportunity to publicly demonstrate the sustainability of year-long bison grazing with our neighbors, land managers, and other interested members of the public. The revised proposal will help build more support while still allowing the Reserve to move forward with wildlife and bison restoration in this special part of the state.

Why expand bison grazing?

American Prairie has acquired almost 420,000 acres of land for bison and wildlife restoration. The total acreage – comprised of leased public land and the Reserve’s private lands – is enough to support at least 5,000 bison, but the herd needs access to the Reserve’s leased public lands to reach that potential population. The gradual expansion of the bison herd will enhance restoration of significant populations (many imperiled) of America's wildlife, rangelands, and riparian areas; and fuel new outdoor recreation opportunities.

How does the revised application impact American Prairie's vision?

The previous grazing request was based upon advice by the BLM to help ensure a thorough cumulative effects analysis. The more limited scope of the revised application does not impact plans to expand our bison herd during the next ten years. In fact, the revised proposal is now more consistent with management priorities for the next decade.

What areas are impacted by the revised application?

The revised application impacts five BLM grazing allotments and five State grazing leases in Phillips County.  

Why do you need a demonstration project?

Many BLM grazing allotments are associated with a pasture rotation system. Scientists, managers, and ranchers have found that bison, when stocked at appropriate rates, do not require rotational grazing to maintain rangeland and riparian health because, in part, they cover more ground and forage at far greater distances from water than cattle. 

A demonstration project will provide a limited test area to showcase this science in an area that has already been approved for use by bison. The land health of the demonstration area would be reviewed by state and federal land managers to ensure all necessary rangeland and wildlife standards are being met. It would also be monitored by scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and open to the public and our neighbors to explore and review. 

We fully anticipate positive results. American Prairie has been conducting with year-round grazing on our Sun Prairie Unit since 2014, and we have already met or exceeded BLM standards for range and riparian health.

What does the science say about year-long continuous grazing?

Plants and animals of the mixed-grass prairie co-evolved with bison for thousands of years. The transition back to bison offers an evolutionarily-tested means to help the BLM meet and exceed the five standards for rangeland health, as stated in the BLM’s HiLine and draft Lewistown management plans. In addition, science shows that at low to moderate stocking levels, rangeland health can be maintained with year-long grazing. Due to the potential for drought in the region, American Prairie is proposing the bison stocking rates on their deeded land is calculated using the Natural Resource Conservation System (NRCS) method for low moisture years. Furthermore, all BLM permittees and State lessees (including American Prairie Reserve) are required to meet rangeland health standards regardless of the class of livestock or grazing system/season.

What gives American Prairie the right to make this request?

The Reserve holds priority grazing privileges on the BLM grazing allotments, which were acquired through the purchase of the associated base properties – properties that were purchased by American Prairie, along with State grazing leases, from willing sellers in free market transactions. The Reserve currently leases the grazing to cattle ranchers, however, it is well within their legal right and furthers their mission to request a change of livestock to bison and a change in the grazing season.

Has the BLM and State approved bison grazing on public lands before?

Yes, bison grazing on public lands is an established practice. The BLM has approved bison grazing on 39 other BLM allotments in six Western states. In fact, American Prairie has been approved to graze bison on two BLM allotments and two State leases in Phillips County, totaling 19,314 leased public acres and 2,694 AUMs. Our bison grazing was first approved on these areas in 2005. Further, range health has been sufficiently maintained on the portions of the area that have been grazed year-long by bison since 2014.

How does the proposal impact the agriculture economy in the area?

This proposal has a minimal impact on ongoing economic and demographic trends. In Phillips County, where the entire revised proposal is located, there were a reported 82,000 cattle in 2018. This proposal will result in up to 1,000 cattle being replaced by bison, 1% of the current 82,000 cattle. The annual change in the number of cattle in Phillips County has often exceeded 1% and is driven by much more significant events including market conditions, weather, and the individual choices of ranchers. The grazing receipts collected by the BLM and State for the leased AUMs would not change under the proposal. Per capita fees to the State would increase with the proposal because the annual fee for bison is almost three times per animal what it is for cattle.

Is the Reserve in good standing with BLM and State?

Yes, the Reserve has consistently met BLM permit and State lease obligations– including paying fees and maintaining rangeland, soil, and riparian health– and complied with other permit requirements. The Reserve also meets the legal requirements for disease testing by the MT Department of Livestock, have been very responsive the few times bison escaped from their pasture, and allocate a significant amount of time and funding to build and maintain fences. There are no known instances where American Prairie bison have harmed or attempted to breed neighboring cattle, spread disease to neighboring cattle, or caused damage on the neighbors’ property other than fences, which American Prairie repaired. Likewise, we know of no instances where Reserve bison harmed people.