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Great Plains and Bison: Will Montana Restore Herds?

Sep 09, 2015 01:25 PM EDT

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) is moving one step closer to deciding whether a project to restore bison in the state has a future in the state. Though the state organization is still figuring whether a new, publicly-managed herd could be feasible from an environmental and financial standpoint, a Tulchin Research poll showed nearly 80 percent of the state's residents support the idea.

"Montana is bison country, and this poll reflects Montanans' pride in the state's wild bison legacy, past, present and future. Montanans clearly don't want politicians destroying that legacy with legislative proposals to impede bison restoration," said Jonathan Proctor, program director at the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife's Rockies and Plains division, in the release above.

The state agency's deadline for public comment on their environmental impact statement--one step in the process toward gauging potential obstacles and concerns from residents likely to be affected by the project--is in late September. Plains Bison, classified as a "Species of Concern," due to a variety of factors including overhunting and the loss of genetic diversity, have been of concern to MFWP for some time. According to a 2011 background document put together by the agency, there is only one public captive herd consisting of about 400 bison in Montana. Geneticists, however, typically recommend herds closer to 1,000 heads to maintain sustainability. Currently, Yellowstone National Park has the country's highest population of wild buffalo.

According to the proposal, the state agency has laid out several options for consideration: no action or restoration of a publicly managed bison herd to tribal, private/public lands or a large landscape with minimal livestock conflicts. The proposal includes case studies from Utah, Montana, Canada and Alaska to illustrate how these scenarios might play out.

Though support is high for the herd among some, others remain concerned that roaming bison may threaten livestock safety and facilitate crop destruction, among other things. 

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