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A bison herd grazes on a grassland near the Missouri River in Montana. Expanded grazing could help increase the number of bison on the American Prairie Reserve property. Submitted photo

Feds approve American Prairie Reserve’s bison-grazing plan

MALTA, Mont. — The Bureau of Land Management has approved a request from the American Prairie Reserve to change a grazing permit on the 13,000-acre Flat Creek allotment in northeastern Montana to allow bison to graze on federal land all year.

American Prairie Reserve is a Montana-based nonprofit that has purchased or leases more than 305,000 acres of land near the Missouri River.

The group’s stated goal is to preserve the prairie landscape while returning bison to the area, eventually growing to a few million acres by combining private and public land. The 915,000-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge near Glasgow is a neighbor to the reserve along the river.

This fall during an aerial survey, the APR counted 620 bison on its property, 10 years after the reserve’s original 16 animals were introduced. According to the group’s website, APR’s “short-term population goal is to reach 1,000 animals by 2018, with the ultimate goal of reaching 10,000 bison when there’s enough land to support a large herd and its seasonal movements.”

The group has been a supporter of Montana releasing bison on the CMR National Wildlife Refuge, an idea that has faced staunch opposition from locals and state Republican legislators. According to its website, APR has even volunteered “to donate and manage those animals within a wildlife-friendly fence as an experiment.”

The Flat Creek allotment was attached to private land American Prairie Reserve purchased in Phillips County in 2014. The grazing lease had been used for cattle.

APR submitted a proposal to switch from seasonal grazing of cattle to yearlong grazing of 385 bison. The organization also sought to remove internal fencing in order to manage the private and public land as one common pasture. There would be no change in the number of federal Animal Unit Months permitted.

At the conclusion of a yearlong public planning process, the BLM completed an environmental assessment on the request with a Finding of No Significant Impact.

Consequently, the BLM has issued a proposed decision authorizing the changes requested by APR. The documents are available athttp://1.usa.gov/1NSdr0O.

In addition to authorizing American Prairie Reserve to remove interior fencing and graze bison, the proposed decision also includes mitigation measures and adaptive management conditions.

Because the allotment is within the recently defined Sagebrush Focal Area, lands under the grazing permit would be prioritized for field checks to ensure compliance with both Standards for Rangeland Health and desired conditions for greater sage-grouse habitat.

The announcement comes only a week after APR announced that it has purchased another ranch in the Antelope Creek area — its 20th acquisition since 2004. The 1,408 deeded acres are north of the Dry Fork region and close to the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and to Highway 191.

Any applicant, permittee, lessee or other affected interest may protest the proposed decision in writing within 15 days to: Field Manager, Bureau of Land Management, 501 S. Second St. E., Malta, Mont. 59538.

Written protests should clearly and concisely state the reason(s) why this proposed decision is in error. A written protest electronically transmitted (e.g., email, facsimile, or social media) will not be accepted. A written protest must be on paper.

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