Strange Bedfellows Hold Ground for Bison in Montana

Today Montana Judge E. Wayne Phillips shot down a lawsuit brought by powerful livestock interests to stop the State of Montana from allowing bison to use areas of Montana outside of Yellowstone National Park.

In the spring of 2011, after many years of unsuccessfully trying to keep bison from leaving the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park and entering Montana, the State of Montana announced a change to the Interagency Bison Management Plan which would allow bison to remain in certain areas outside of the Park for certain periods of the year.  The changes allow bull bison to use US Forest Service lands north of the park boundary and south of the Yankee Jim Canyon between the ridge-tops on either side of the Yellowstone River.

This change in the IBMP didn’t sit well with the Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) and the Park County Stockgrowers Association, Inc. (PCSA) who filed for injunctive relief in Montana Sixth Judicial District Court in Park County, Montana.  The MFBF and PCSA argued that the changes violated the State’s regulatory duties to manage brucellosis and bison as set forth by Montana Code, the changes were not analyzed under an adequate or sufficient environmental review required by the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), and that the changes violated their member’s right to a “clean and healthful environment” as granted by the Montana Constitution.

In response to the lawsuit several groups, including Buffalo Field Campaign and Western Watersheds Project, intervened on behalf of the State of Montana, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, and the Montana Department of Livestock to defend the changes.

“Buffalo Field Campaign is heartened that migratory bison will have some room to roam their winter range in Gardiner Basin,” says Daniel Brister, Buffalo Field Campaign’s executive director. “This case underscores how important local support is for migrating bison. Judge Phillips relied on that local support for bison in his ruling today – an important victory for bison wintering in Gardiner Basin.”

“In this case, the plaintiffs represented a very vocal minority of livestock interests who tried to force the court to adopt their extreme position and prevent bison from occupying their native habitat in Montana,” says Summer Nelson, Montana Director for Western Watersheds Project and one of the attorneys representing Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign who intervened in the Stockgrowers Association lawsuit. “The court saw through their arguments and wild bison finally prevailed over that narrow interest. This is an important ruling in favor of the majority of Montanans, who value native, wild bison.”

Read the Ruling.acrobat pdf



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  1. Sam Parks Avatar

    I think Judge Phillips hit the nail on the head:

    “The Court emphasizes with the struggles sume of the Petitioners’ members have in encounters with bison, but as Rathbone so eloquently stated that is “a consequence of living in Montana and with her abundant wildlife.””

  2. Gail Avatar

    A judge who can’t be “bought”! Excellent news.
    Along similar lines, here is another victory – the cattle “industry” cannot bully and expect to succeed in all cases:

    1. Barb Rupers Avatar
      Barb Rupers

      This is more good news. Thanks for the update,Gail.

    2. rork Avatar

      I also thank Gail.
      It’s unimaginable to me that you can let stock on wilderness at all – that’s insane.
      (But I’m pretty radical – I’d include saddle horses in that for example, so I’m in the arch-druid 5% or such.)

      1. WM Avatar


        livestock out of wilderness-“…I’d include saddle horses in that for example, so I’m in the arch-druid 5% or such.”

        Do I have correct in saying you don’t want horses in wilderness (you don’t distinguish between federally designated or just wildlands)?

        Fine if you are a young able bodied person who can make 12-15 miles or more a day with a backpack. Not so good if you are older with knees or hips shot, or otherwise disabled. You will reach this stage too someday in your life. Want to rethink the acccess thing and how it is done, or are you a purist who maybe doesn’t go into wilderness at all anyway, or wants to “preserve it for the wildlife?”

        And, by the way, there is alot of wilderness still untouched with the horse folks only given access on main trails.

        1. WM Avatar


          “Do I have YOU correct in saying…”

        2. alf Avatar

          “Fine if you are a young able bodied person who can make 12-15 miles or more a day with a backpack. Not so good if you are older with knees or hips shot, or otherwise disabled. You will reach this stage too someday in your life.”

          I have pretty much reached that age. But regardless of age, I injured a nerve in one of my legs about 10 years ago, and have a LOT of pain in it if I walk very far. I accept that — reluctantly.

          It may be a bad analogy, but no matter how much he may love the game, or how good he is at playing it, even the best athlete (you name the sport) eventually realizes that he can’t continue and has to retire.

        3. rork Avatar

          WM: That’s right, I don’t want horses in the federally designated wildernesses. Yes, it means if you have physical limitations, it may be hard to get really far from the road, and you’ll have to stick to the edges. It means guides will not be bringing in clients riding – you’ll need skills, and a fat ass will be a liability. Young people will have an edge cause of young bodies – that’s OK.

          I have backpacked wilderness many times, and purposefully try to pick country that horses can’t handle (I’ve not seen any trying to cross the Missions). I will not be able to do it just like I used to do, that’s true.
          In my state, I’d just as soon not have any horses on any public lands. Ditto with off-road vehicles. They do damage.

          1. WM Avatar

            rork, alf,

            How you gonna get those high paying wolf tourism, wolf watchers into the areas where they might be seen in wilderness, without those outfitters and their disgusting horses (hunters too)? Not everyone with money has the time or the desire (even skills/physical stamina) to be a backpacker, and many of the younger ones simply don’t have the money in the first place. So, you want wilderness to be preserves that nobody visits except the young and fit with lots of time, to the exclusion of disabled and the old, or those without backpacking skills or the time to access wilderness.

            Not that I am in favor of mountains with hand rails, but I bet Congress, and the states/local businesses which derive economic benefit from increased wilderness use will love your elitist preservationist ideas (not).

            1. rork Avatar

              WM: That’s fairly said, mostly. I don’t expect to win anytime soon.

              In Michigan right now, I’m loosing trails to horse trail expansion (or rather, I expect to loose soon). The horse people are in love with horses for sure, with the land only sometimes, and they fight hard, and sadly, they tend to have more money and time to spare, so they usually manage to get more than their fair share. The foot-travel lobby ain’t organized – hell, the mountain-bikers are kicking our asses too. They have one issue. We “druids” on the other hand have many.

              The thing I always hated (more often north of Lake Superior than US – and it’s not designated wilderness there) was 2 people working very hard to get to a very beautiful spots days from the road, and then have 8 people with money buy their way in – money and almost nothing else. Our young people deserve some places where that doesn’t happen, where only prowess matters. PS: I’m now 54. I’ve never been to the Bob cause I’m scared I’ll be disappointed. Poor access makes wild places feel larger – imagine if trails were so bad that it took 4 days to get to the middle. That’s a traditional “more roadless” argument.

              I don’t agree that it takes so much money or time. I don’t particularly agree that wilderness need be managed for the short-term economic benefit of locals either. Protected resource comes first, everything else far behind. (There are spots near me where I’m not even allowed to set foot unless the scientists invite us – rare plant environments. It’s not federal land. Anyway, I’m OK with that.)

              PS: thanks for not using “it’s traditional” arguments, and sticking to the good stuff instead.

  3. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    A long read.
    “Montana is one of the 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.”

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      After years of battling, Montana still has almost all its original wildlife. It is so good to finally prevail against this dark force of reactionaries who would reduce Montana wildlife from its spectacular diversity to a few common species of big game and common livestock.

      I see this a victory against the dark thought and practice of the past and its postmodern incarnation of greed, delusion, anti-science, and prejudice.

      I guess everyone can tell I see this a far more than a bison issue. It is a victory for progress and American ideals.

      1. Jon Way Avatar

        Great post Ralph and definitely great news!!!

      2. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        It is a victory for progress and American ideals.

        Very much so! 🙂

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      I have read it now. It is certainly worthwhile, the old guard brings out every tiresome old argument against bison plus new ones, such as bison migrating freely violates a Montanan’s state constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment.

      They are all struck down.

    3. alf Avatar

      “…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.”

      If the “fiercely independent and self reliant” ranchers can’t (or don’t want to) deal with the wildlife in the northern Rockies, maybe they ought to give serious consideration to moving their operations to some place like Iowa, where probably the most inconvenient or dangerous critters the’d encounter would be an occasional fox or coyote, or heaven forbid, a rabid bat or skunk.

  4. Betty Avatar

    This is great news, I would so love to move to Montana, I love wildlife.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      There are some good people there too; also some real “gems,” but not so many gems as in Idaho, the Gem State.
      – – –

      1 AM cleverness

    2. IDhiker Avatar

      Then you should do what it takes to move here! We need more wildlife lovers in this state. It’s the only way we will save Montana from those that want to make it like everywhere else.

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Here is the AP story by Matthew Brown who talked mostly to those who lost the case.

    Judge upholds Montana’s free-roaming bison plan
    By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press

    To see the counterargument to the statements of the losers how they are just worried about public safety here, one should read in the decision how the residents of the area actually do cope with deer, elk, moose, cougar, black bears and grizzly bears that roam through. If you think about it, the idea that they are protecting the safety of these “vulnerable” citizens in the area, is a demeaning attitude toward the local citizens, suggesting they are inept, when in fact they do deal with all kinds of wildlife very well.

  6. Jerry Black Avatar

    Thankyou Summer Nelson, all of WWP, Buffalo Field Campaign, and the rest that fought for this
    This is HUGE!!!!!