Bill in Montana Legislature kills Possibility for Wild Bison in State

The threat from House Bill 132 

By Jim Bailey

A proposed apparently minor addition to the legal definition of “wild bison” in Montana could eliminate all possibilities for restoring public, wild bison to the state. This seemingly innocent change exists in House Bill 132 which, as of this writing, has passed the Montana House and has been submitted to the Senate Agriculture Committee. In current law, “wild bison” are those that “have not been reduced to captivity”. HB132 alters that to “have never been in captivity”.

Currently, there are no public, wild bison, year-round in Montana – not under the state’s legal definition, nor under a biological definition (see

Wild Yellowstone Park bison visit Montana seasonally. They come with the complication of brucellosis, a condition abhorrent to the livestock industry, even though transmission of Brucella from bison to cattle has never occurred. Consequently Yellowstone bison are allowed very little space outside the Park and many of them are removed annually by hunting or by capture and slaughter. In Montana, Yellowstone bison are managed primarily under the jurisdiction of the Department of Livestock.

Other bison in Montana are private livestock, Native American herds, and those in the fenced National Bison Range. The latter are “display animals in an exhibition pen” under Montana law.

In 1937, Olaus Murie, inspecting the new Fort Peck Game Range, recommended restoring wild bison to what is now the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge surrounds the U L Bend federal refuge on three sides. Together they amount to over 1500 square miles of potential bison habitat – the best opportunity for restoring wild bison anywhere on the American Great Plains.

But Montana, despite several promises and false starts, has never seen fit to restore wild bison on the CMR NWR, despite 3 recent polls indicating that 70% of Montana voters favor wild bison restoration on the Refuge.

Several sources of wild bison might be transplanted to restore bison on the CMR NWR. But all possible sources are either now “in captivity” or, in one or two cases, would have to be captured and captively-trucked to the Refuge.

Thus, HB132 effectively disqualifies all possible sources of bison that might be used to restore bison as wildlife on the CMR NWR and much contiguous federal land and private land where wild bison would be welcome. HB132, if enacted, would confirm the continued extirpation of wild bison from Montana.

The Montana Wild Bison Restoration Coalition urges Montanans to stand against HB132, in the Montana Senate, or if necessary by requesting a veto from Governor Bullock.

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Jim Bailey, Coordinator, Montana Wild Bison Restoration Coalition.




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  1. Jennie Avatar

    Seems the animal agriculture lobby, the beef industry lobby, the livestock lobby, and state ranchers are in bed with conservative politicians and engaged in their usual attitude toward wildlife. They have an us vs. them, either/or, black and white, limited mentality toward nature, wildlife, and our natural environment – it’s all about money, money, and more money to these people. They would like nothing more it seems than to have their cattle trampling and polluting every square foot of the U.S. if they possibly could.

    So glad I’m vegan!

  2. idaursine Avatar

    More proof that nothing much has changed.

  3. MAD Avatar

    I have driven through the Charlie Russell NWR dozens of times in my travels between god-awful Havre and Billings. It truly is a perfect spot for a herd of bison to live. There is nothing but rolling hills and open space (no cell service for about an hour or so).

    Seems the legislator at the helm to this bill is Kenneth Holmlund, from Miles City. I’m familiar with this guy because 2 of his other bills have directly impacted the State agency I work for – that he really seems to dislike (State Public Defender’s Office). I dislike these small-minded, local politicians who seem bent on imposing their cowboy-western style of politics on the entire state & region, regardless if the people want it or not. It’s very depressing

    1. Nancy Avatar

      “I dislike these small-minded, local politicians who seem bent on imposing their cowboy-western style of politics on the entire state & region, regardless if the people want it or not. It’s very depressing”

      Thank you MAD!! For summing up MY thoughts in that paragraph (as someone who’s witnessed this medieval mentality, first hand, since moving to Montana over 27 years ago)

      The small- minded local politicians are simply catering to their base.

      Like this guy 🙂

      Okay to wipe out indigenous people, okay to wipe out native wildlife.

      Suggested reading:

      The Winning of the West/Roosevelt

      Cattle Kingdom/Knowlton

    1. idaursine Avatar

      Such a disappointment. 🙁


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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