Wild Yellowstone bison are deemed worthy of our national currency. They are so revered they are on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s seal. And they are the hallowed centerpiece of Wyoming’s flag.
Apparently they’re not fit for Montana soil.
Or so insists one John Brenden, a state senator who has introduced a bill that would exterminate any wild Yellowstone bison that stray one hoof outside of Yellowstone National Park’s boundaries. And so argues Alan Doane, a representative from eastern Montana’s Dawson County who wants to make it legal for landowners to kill any bison that wander onto their property.
If these two have their way, we’ll return to the zero-tolerance frontier days of the late 1800s, when wanton slaughter of bison reduced America’s herds from perhaps 60 million to a couple dozen in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley.
Now, if you’re familiar with Montana geography, you might be asking yourself: Why would a senator from Scobey, near the Canadian border, be inserting himself — again — in the bison issue? Or why would a representative from Dawson County, 300-plus miles from the closest wild Yellowstone bison, propose a shoot-on-sight policy?
It’s a little like a pol from Miles City trying to ban liberals from Missoula.
Well, Scobey is just north of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, which received more than 60 wild Yellowstone bison last winter. To hear Brenden and his ilk tell it, the restoration of bison to Montana’s northern Plains is the camel’s nose under the tent foretelling the arrival of $25 a gallon gas, black helicopters and blue United Nations helmets.
It would put America herself in great peril.
Doane’s bill is only slightly less draconian than Brenden’s. Wild Yellowstone can migrate into Montana, but as soon as they set foot on private property they are subject to a death sentence, depending on the mood of landowners. Imagine the serenity of the Gardiner Basin shattered by the report of rifle shots aimed at Yellowstone bison in the neighborhood simply for seeking winter forage.
Doane’s motives are a little less clear than Brenden’s. Presumably he envisions a day when rogue Yellowstone bison are roaming the streets of Glendive.
Fortunately, most landowners in the Gardiner Basin, and on Horse Butte west of the park, support having Yellowstone bison on their property. As a judge recently noted, when ruling against anti-bison forces in Montana’s Park County, living in Montana comes with a certain recognition that wildlife comes with the territory.
It’s obvious that neither Brenden nor Vincent care that such foolishness makes Montana a national laughingstock. It’s also clear that neither cares that the majority of Montanans favor free-roaming bison on appropriate landscapes.
At best, Brenden is simply coveting grass for his cattle constituents. At worst, his bill is thinly veiled racism — the suggestion being that the tribes at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap can’t manage their bison.
GYC will join thousands of other Montanans who support wild Yellowstone bison in an effort to beat back these bills. They are bad for bison and bad for Montana.
Here in the Northern Rockies, we watch the state Legislatures of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming with bemusement, often wondering which will take the lead in the race to create the nuttiest legislation.
So far, thanks in great part to these bad Yellowstone bison bills, it’s Montana in a runaway.