NE Montana in snit over bison restoraton, so they lock hunters out

Hunter lockout underscores the privatization danger to our public lands-

As if to underscore the value of our national public lands, this time for hunters, NE Montana ranchers have locked hunters out of their ranchland to protest and put pressure on Montana FWP because they didn’t get their way on keeping bison strictly restricted to Yellowstone National Park.

Eastern Montana is very sparsely populated — wide open spaces — but almost all of it is private. Access is granted or taken away at the whim of the landowner. There are a few national wildlife refuges, however.

There is also a state of Montana program with about about 1,300 landowners enrolled. The contracts in this hunter access program agree to pay ranchers to provide access for a period. In protest about 50 have dropped out of the program. Fifteen are reported to be in Northeastern Montana.

Of course ranchers can’t prevent hunter use of state lands and federal lands and the management of bison is a state, not a federal program. Some ranchers do try to block access to public land, however, by controlling key routes to the land. They extract fees from hunters and others to get to the public land. The ranchers’ ire is over the transfer of 64 disease free bison from Yellowstone to an Indian Reservation in NE Montana. Retiring governor Brian Schweitzer was behind the transfer. Conservationists and the state also are pushing to have bison restored in the few large pieces of federal land public lands in NE Montana. The National Wildlife Federation wants to restore wild bison to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. In addition, The American Prairie Reserve is buying ranch lands north of the Missouri River to restore bison.

The ranchers say their pressure is to get hunters to support their anti-bison position by denying the hunters access. There is no clear reason being stated why the ranchers don’t want bison restored since they will be disease free and the old argument that bison will transmit brucellosis to cattle has been discredited. All disease transmissions from wild animals have been from elk.

The Wildlife News has argued that as with wolves most of opposition from stockgrowers comes merely from anger that they did not get their way. They figure they run things related to land, and get mad when they find they don’t.

In the past, ranchers have mounted protests over federal and state land policies by trying to get a unified private land closure. This time the closure is over bison and directed at hunters. In the past, in Idaho, it was directed at the federal government for conducting an inventory of the roadless lands remaining on the national forest.

If plans go through to privatize the public lands when certain people are elected in the 2012 election, the ranchers and the billionaires who will buy the public lands of the United States will have a much stronger hand than now in what looks like a protest that is now sweeping the prairies.



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  1. Patricia Moore Avatar
    Patricia Moore

    Just say no to privetized public lands. If the Koch Brothers get a hold of it , it will not be fit for man or animal.Or any other living creature with what is happening with the fracturing, and total lack of concern to Mankinds existance.They wanted tax cuts so they could go back later when the parks could no longer keep the up because of the tax cuts.It was a plan. AT THE END OF THE ROAD IT WILL BE A DEAD END STREET, AND THE 1

  2. ramses09 Avatar

    Thanks Ralph for making the folks of these United States aware of the selfishness of some people. I ask myself, why wouldn’t you want 64 disease free bison on American Indian land. It’s their right & always has been. I think it’s a wonderful idea & it gives the buffalo of this country a safe area to live. Kudos to the tribes that are taking chances to do what was once theirs in the first place.

  3. ramses09 Avatar

    My apologies to you …… Dr. Maughan, I meant no disrespect.

  4. Sam Parks Avatar

    I think this pretty much proves what most of us have known all along; that the livestock industry’s opposition to bison has very little, if anything, to do with brucellosis. They simply don’t want another ungulate out on the land competing with their cattle for forage. Once (If?) brucellosis is eradicated in Yellowstone bison, I’m sure the elite ranchers will concoct some other grand theory about why we need to keep bison inside the park.

  5. Rancher Bob Avatar
    Rancher Bob

    Interesting that private land owners deciding to not allow hunting as a form of protest is bad mouthed, private land owners allowing hunting is bad mouthed. So put bison on the reservation and let them make jerky out of them. Bison living in a closed pasture eating hay that will answer the call for free roaming bison. How many readers do we have that have lived on a Montana reservation to see how the tribes treat wildlife, when traveling Montana reservation are the few places you won’t hit a deer with your car.
    If I recall there are bison on the CMR refuge if you know where to look.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Rancher Bob,

      Here in Idaho, I live close to the Ft. Hall Indian Reservation, of the Shoshoni and Bannock tribes. They have a bison herd of about 200 which they are proud. You can also also eat some of their bison beef at the reservation restaurant.

      Their bison, however, just like any bison that might be on the CMR refuge have a proportion of cattle genes.

      The Indians at Fort Peck have received genetically pure bison from Yellowstone Park.

      I do think the conservation groups want the bison to eventually be free roaming (within limits). I imagine the idea is that they will be hunted as the size of the herd increases, but will not be for commercial meat operations.

  6. JB Avatar

    There was a time–not to long ago in fact–that all private lands that were not in production were open to the public for hunting. American’s (and especially Westerner’s) fixation on private property rights has cost hunters, anglers and those who would use “open” lands to hike and explore a great deal. As we move toward greater private property rights our wildlife are increasingly in danger of becoming private property themselves.

    1. Louise Kane Avatar

      perhaps some wildlife will be protected from hunting if they live on private property where the owner wants them to live unmolested.

      1. JB Avatar

        That is already the case, Louise. Where I grew up (rural Michigan), the people across the road from us posted their 160 acres against hunters. Their land was deer heaven –it contained a small apple orchard, a pond, and a very thick seasonal wetland–and was adjacent to land planted in corn and beans. Deer were very thick in the area; in fact, my parents once hit three deer in two days with the same vehicle (the last one killed the car and the deer), the first two didn’t do much damage as we all learned to drive slowly during the rut.

        Here’s another example…

        In the 1980s deer became extremely overabundant in Sharon Woods Metro Park here in Columbus. The park, which was a little over a mile square, had an estimated 350 deer with a carrying capacity of ~25. Because residents opposed any type of lethal control, park managers initially followed their wishes and documented the results. They lost >150 plant species as well as small mammals, reptiles and birds and in just one year (1991) saw 50 deer-vehicle collisions in the immediate area around the park.

        Peck, L.J. & J.E. Stahl. 1997. Deer Management Techniques Employed by the Columbus and Franklin County Park District, Ohio. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 25(2): 440-442

      2. Savebears Avatar

        This has nothing to do with wanting to protect anything, it is just a bunch of pissed off land owners punishing FWP because they don’t like what they are doing.

        1. JB Avatar


          I’m happy to let others debate the motivations of the landowners in question. For me, the *problem* is that property rights have been taken too far.

          1. Savebears Avatar


            I have to disagree, when a person purchases something, they should expect to be able to protect it, we all know, we cannot allow them or me to do what we want with our property, but come on, if you pay for it, you should have the priority. Ultimately, when I purchase and pay for something, I should have the major control of it.

            1. Savebears Avatar

              Private property ownership is one of the foundations of our country, if we give that up, then we might as well go back to what we left.

            2. JB Avatar


              With due respect, property rights are not an absolute. (There are a whole host of things that I cannot do to my property just because I own it.) It isn’t a matter of “giving up” property rights, but rather, it’s a matter of how much “right” a landowner should have. Conservation officers, for example, are in most states allowed to access property so long as they are not in the immediate area surrounding the home; meanwhile, the mailman, and meter-checkers from the gas, electric and water companies all regularly access my private property right up to the house.

              Again, in my mind the right to exclude people from rural properties not in production has been taken too far–and that’s the same whether we’re talking about hunters, anglers or hikers.

            3. Savebears Avatar


              I never said absolute, but if I own it and am paying the taxes on it, I should have the majority say of what is done on it. One thing that is different is Montana over many other states, if I have a creek or a stream running through my property, I can’t deny access to the steam bed, but that is under fire as well in this state.

          2. Ida Lupine Avatar
            Ida Lupine

            It’s really a human concept, property ownership, and not even recognized by all humans. Means nothing to the inhabitants who have lived on the land for thousands of years. It is a European settlers concept, money and property ownership, and it has caused more death and destruction than it is worth. I only hope that the Romney and Koch Bros. crowd don’t make it lots worse.

            1. Rancher Bob Avatar
              Rancher Bob

              Property ownership a human concept?
              Do you know what a pee post is, it’s a animal marking it’s range or turf saying this is mine. It will often fight over that claim.
              Native Americans fought over hunting grounds, strong tribes kicked weaker tribes off those good hunting areas. They may have not claimed ownership like Europeans but they claimed the rights.
              Money has always been what could be traded things like gold seeds chert and whatever else.

  7. Jay Avatar

    Time for some reciprocation–boycott beef, and start an effort to kick cattle off public lands. We shouldn’t be allowing cattle to eat up forage that rightfully belongs to wildlife in the first place.

    1. Savebears Avatar


      You are never going to kick cattle off public land, but the program needs to be scraped and completely re-done to reflect the current day, they pay way to little to get so much.

      1. Jay Avatar

        Yeah, I realize it’s a pipe dream, but a concerted effort might put a little fear of repercussion in the backs of producers’ heads. Minimally, nobody who supports wildlife should be buying their product.

        1. CodyCoyote Avatar

          Recall that ranchers including the Montana subspecies were adamant a few years back about COOL—Country Of Origin Labelling—for retail beef products. They were incensed about so much meat being imported from Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and for all I know, Canada; that imports were harming the domestic cattle industry.

          I was not opposed to COOL but neither did I support it at the time. I just think it’s always worth giving consumers this kind of information to make intelligent purchases.

          Given this brushfire rebellion in NE Montana of late I suggest we take the COOL notion a little further , by bringin it closer to home and putting it on that ranch-to-market playing field. SOOL—State Of Origin Labelling — or even TROOL , Township and Range of Origin Labelling.

          I would love to be given the educated choice as a consumer to NOT buy any beef produced in Wyoming , because of rancher hostility towards wolves and other wildlife, or Montana…ditto ditto and ditto. I already do this locally in Cod WY at the local meat outlet that prides itself on buying carcasses locally. I checked their producer lists and sure enough they all were anti-Wolf , so they do not get any of my dollars as much as I would like to spend money with them ( and I generally do support the Shop At Home policy).

          So maybe what we need in lieu of a Montana SOOL or TROOL consumer label is a clearinghouse of readily available info where the protesting ranchers do , in fact, take their stock. What feedlot east of here; what packing plant; what wholesaler ends up packing their beef for resale , so we know not to buy any ?

          I was very encouraged here in recent years when the price of lean bison meat was coming down the rival that of beef. Methinks these impugned Montana ranchers are shooting themselves in both feet here. I’ll gladly provide the ammo.

          1. Jay Avatar

            I can understand wanting to know the origin of where the beef comes from, but I’d argue that beef is bad for wildlife regardless of its origin (e.g., jaguars being killed in S America in the name of beef production).

          2. Rancher Bob Avatar
            Rancher Bob

            Most ranchers sell beef by the whole, half, quarter and some times by the cut so find a ranch that meets your qualifications and ask about buying meat. Quarters are about 110 pounds at $5.00 lbs cut and wrapped or 3.80 hanging weight plus processing.
            Tracking a truck load of calves from ranch to store is still almost impossible.

  8. Mark L Avatar
    Mark L

    Until then, maybe educating consumers (and ranchers) about why certain cattle breeds are ‘better suited’ to wilderness areas than others might help. Also, pulling back injured/feeble ones from border herds would help. Boycotts are a useful tool, but if you can’t differentiate which cattle are being used, why boycott all cattle? Look at tuna and oil as examples of differentiating a resource from origin to point of use. Some organizations would HATE for you to know where their stuff comes from. Target those organizations, not the industry. Kill the cancer, not the whole patient.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      Like trying to boycott products with which the Koch brothers have a hand. Geezo peezo, name a product, and chances are they are hand maidens somewhere in the process of production of that item.

  9. Mark L Avatar
    Mark L

    Until then, maybe educating consumers (and ranchers) about why certain cattle breeds are ‘better suited’ to wilderness areas than others might help. Also, pulling back injured/feeble ones from border herds would help. Boycotts are a useful tool, but if you can’t differentiate which cattle are being used, why boycott all cattle? Look at tuna and oil as examples of differentiating a resource from origin to point of use. Some organizations would HATE for you to know where their stuff comes from. Target those organizations, not the industry. Kill the cancer, not the patient.

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    The theory of markets says the more information both buyers and sellers have about the good or service they are exchanging, the more efficient the market.

    Lack of information is not good for the economic system, and only of advantage to those who think they can get a larger share in a poorly functioning market.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan