Anti-bison mania seizes legislature, Governor Bullock helps beat off the attack on a national symbol-

Helena, MT. Montana’s new legislature, elected in 2012, was a hotbed of anti-bison activity. Ten or so bills to hurt the bison in one way or another were introduced and a number passed and were sent to Montana’s new governor Steve Bullock.

Governor Bullock has saved the limited number of free roaming bison, and maybe bison as something other than livestock, with his veto pen. This week he vetoed the last two bills that would harm the bison, SB 256 and SB 305.

It is difficult to understand why the majority party of legislature is so hostile to the bison except it seems to have become a partisan issue as over the years all the standard anti-bison arguments have been knocked down by management and regulatory changes made by the U.S. agency APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service)  and Montana Department of Livestock and by scientific studies.

The Wildlife News has, over the years generally argued that anti-bison sentiment is basically a cultural response from the state’s cattle ranchers now angry that anyone would dare challenge their cultural hegemony — it has little to do with a threat of brucellosis spreading, bison knocking down fences, chasing people, etc.  The trouble with cultural animosity is that science, economics, compromise cannot calm “a party with a chip on their shoulder.”

Those who want rational bison management and a degree of free roaming bison in the state outside of the limited boundary of Yellowstone National Park should contact the governor and thank him. governor@mt.gov

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Below are his full veto messages of the Governor-

SB256

May 6, 2013

The Honorable Linda McCulloch
Secretary of State
State Capitol

Helena, MT 59620

Dear Secretary McCulloch:

In accordance with the power vested in me as Governor by the Constitution and the laws of the State of Montana, I hereby veto Senate Bill 256 (SB 256), “AN ACT MAKING THE DEPARTMENT OF FISH, WILDLIFE, AND PARKS LIABLE FOR DAMAGE TO PRIVATE PROPERTY BY CERTAIN WILD BUFFALO AND BISON; REQUIRING AN ESTIMATION OF PRIVATE PROPERTY DAMAGE AND COSTS FOR WHICH THE DEPARTMENT WOULD BE LIABLE IF A WILD BUFFALO OR BISON PROPOSED FOR RELEASE OR TRANSPLANTATION ESCAPES; PROVIDING AN APPROPRIATION; AMENDING SECTION 87-1-216, MCA; AND PROVIDING AN EFFECTIVE DATE.”

SB 256 would impose liability on the State of Montana for any damage to private property that results from wild buffalo and bison that have been transplanted or released. This would be the first time that, absent malfeasance, such a liability would be imposed on the State for the impacts of wild animals, even transplanted ones. The bill does not define what constitutes damage to private property, and sets the stage for litigation and potentially significant liability claims. For example, under SB 256, the State could be liable for the grass lost to grazing. In addition, as stated in the fiscal note, after fiscal year 2015 the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) would be forced to divert license funds to pay for any damages, jeopardizing more than $18 million in federal funds.

SB 256 would set an unacceptable precedent. If applied to other species, this rationale would practically preclude any wildlife restoration efforts, regardless of the benefits. If this precedent had existed 100 years ago, Montana’s world-class wildlife heritage would not exist today. Just as troubling is the idea that the State should pay for damage to property resulting from the actions of any wild animal, whether that would be wild bison eating grass in Eastern Montana, mule deer eating tulips in Helena, or a moose getting in the way of a vehicle in the Swan Valley. As recognized long ago, landowners in Montana fully understand that wildlife are practically part of the land itself:

“Montana is one ofthe few areas in the nation where wild game abounds. It is regarded as one of the greatest of the state’s natural resources, as well as the chief attraction for visitors. Wild game existed here long before the coming of man. One who acquires property in Montana does so with notice and knowledge of the presence of wild game and presumably is cognizant of its natural habits. Wild game does not possess the power to distinguish between fructus naturales and fructus industriales, and cannot like domestic animals be controlled through an owner. Accordingly, a property owner in this state must recognize the fact that there may be some injury to property or inconvenience from wild game for which there is no recourse.” State of Montana v. Rathbone, 110 MT 225, 242 (1940).

Finally, it is worth noting that existing statute in 87-1-216, MCA, already directs FWP to develop and adopt, with full public participation, a specific management plan prior to any restoration effort on private or public land in Montana. This statute explicitly provides that FWP may be liable for damage to private property resulting from its failure to comply with the statute.

I am committed to improving the relationship between the sportsmen and women, FWP, and landowners of this state, and am grateful to the many landowners who provide vital habitat for our great wildlife herds. Their actions benefit all of us who are fortunate to live here. We must do more to work together, but SB 256 is not the answer.

For these reasons, I veto SB 256.

Sincerely,

STEVE BULLOCK

Governor

____________________________________

SB 305

May 6,2013

The Honorable Linda McCulloch
Secretary of State  
State Capitol
Helena, MT 59620  

Dear Secretary McCulloch:  

In accordance with the power vested in me as Governor by the Constitution and the laws of the State of Montana, I hereby veto Senate Bill 305 (SB 305), “AN ACT REVISING THE DEFINITION OF WILD BUFFALO AND WILD BISON; AND AMENDING SECTIONS 81-1-101, 87-2-101, AND   87-6-101, MCA.”  

SB 305 changes the definition of wild buffalo and wild bison to require that the animal “has never been owned,” by a wide range of entities, “except for the state or a state agency.” Current law is that a wild buffalo or wild bison “has not been reduced to captivity and is not owned by a person.” Fish and wildlife in Montana are not actually “owned” by anyone, but are held by the state in trust for the benefit of the people of Montana. Under existing statutes the state is given broad management responsibilities for wild buffalo and wild bison, requiring the Departments of Livestock and the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks to exercise authority over the animals, including disease control, hunting, and possible relocation both within and without the state.

To effectively manage wild buffalo and wild bison in Montana, the state needs to rely on various partners including the federal government and the tribal nations. SB 305 precludes any meaningful role for these entities and severely limits the ability of the state to meet its obligations to the public under the law. For these reasons, I veto SB 305.  

STEVE BULLOCK

Governor  

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

10 Responses to Montana governor vetoes the last of the anti-bison bills sent to him by 2013 legislature

  1. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    Yes! This is good news. Thank you, Governor Bullock!

  2. avatar JB says:

    “Those who want rational bison management and a degree of free roaming bison in the state outside of the limited boundary of Yellowstone National Park should contact the governor and thank him.”

    Done!

  3. avatar Richie G. says:

    Thank you Governor for your insight on wildlife in Montana. This turns out to be a good day for the Buffalo. People can reach a meeting in the middle on wildlife to roam and the Governor has proved this, again Thank You Governor Bullock from an easterner.

  4. avatar Mtn Mamma says:

    Finally- some good news. I will call his office on Monday to say Thank You. We need to pour on the gratitude folks!

  5. avatar john says:

    is there a link to send a message to the gun

  6. avatar john says:

    guv, i mean

  7. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    … and for Mother’s Day , a Gallatin County Judge has overruled wildlife advocates to allow Ted Turner to keep his Yellowstone bison and their offspring.

    http://www.seattlepi.com/news/science/article/Ted-Turner-wins-bison-transfer-court-challenge-4509614.php

    http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/environment/article_b5db9ae6-bacb-11e2-8509-001a4bcf887a.html

  8. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    They’re probably better off with Ted!

  9. avatar alf says:

    Gov. Bullock certainly seems more enlightened — or at least less political — than Sen. Tester and Rep. Mike Simpleton [sic] did in their legislative end run around the ESA to delist the wolf.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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