HB253 Will Remove Department of Livestock's Management Authority

For Immediate Release:
January 27, 2009

Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign, 406-646-0070

West Yellowstone, Montana - The front lines wild bison advocacy group, Buffalo Field Campaign, announces support of HB253, the Wild Buffalo Recovery & Conservation Act of 2009. BFC joins with a diverse group of conservationists, private property owners, hunters, bison advocates and others in support of HB253.

The bipartisan bill was introduced by Montana Representative Mike Phillips, and will be heard by Montana's House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee in Helena on Thursday, January 29, at 3:00 pm in room 303 of Montana's state capitol. A large public turnout is expected.
"HB253 takes a significant step in the right direction," said BFC co-founder Mike Mease. "BFC supports the three critical elements outlined in this bill: 1) Removal of the Department of Livestock's authority over wild bison management; 2) Respect for wild bison as a valued native wildlife species in Montana; and 3) Addressing concerns of private property owners who welcome wild bison on their land," continued Mease, who will attend Thursday's hearing.

The bill also addresses the concerns of private landowners, such as cattle producers, who may not welcome wild bison on their property. HB253, however, does not address year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana, which Buffalo Field Campaign would like to see included in the bill. The Horse Butte Peninsula is the ideal place to start, as the absence of cattle and overwhelming public support for bison make it a conflict-free area.

"Yellowstone buffalo are wildlife, and they should be managed by our wildlife professionals. The legislation also addresses private property concerns, allowing owners to have buffalo managed if on their property. It's a win-win and a step in the right direction for wild buffalo management," said Lisa Upson of Natural Resources Defense Council.

Currently, the Montana Department of Livestock manages wild bison that enter Montana, a role authorized under MCA 81-2-120. Under this law, crafted by Montana's cattle interests, wild bison are managed as diseased pests and forbidden to enter the state without being subjected to harassment or death. HB253 would change that law by returning bison management to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

"It is a serious conflict of interest having the Department of Livestock in charge of managing wild bison," said Mike Bowersox, spokesperson with Buffalo Field Campaign, "HB253 eliminates the foolishness of trusting the fox to guard the henhouse."

American buffalo (Bison bison) are native to vast tracts of North America, including Montana, yet in the U.S. the last wild population exists only in Yellowstone and is currently ecologically extinct, absent from most of its native range. By recognizing buffalo as a valued, native wildlife species in Montana, the Wild Buffalo Recovery & Conservation Act begins to address wild bison restoration needs.

"HB253 will be a boon to Montana's economy," said Stephany Seay, a spokeswoman with Buffalo Field Campaign. "Tourists from around the world come through Montana's gateway communities into Yellowstone to get a glimpse of these majestic, prehistoric wonders. By allowing wild buffalo to gain some respect in Montana, we are on our way to gaining them some ground. Wild bison are native to this state and pose an enormous benefit to the ecological, economic, cultural, and spiritual integrity of Montana."

Since the Montana Department of Livestock has been in charge of managing wild bison (1995), 5,390 wild American bison have been eliminated from the last wild population in the U.S. Buffalo Field Campaign is the only group working in the field, every day, to stop the slaughter of the wild American buffalo. Volunteers defend the buffalo and their habitat and advocate for their lasting protection.