February 5, 2016 Voices Of Montana, _Featured

American Prairie Reserve Pres. Says Bison Will Not Effect Ranchers

Sean Gerrity, President of American Prairie Reserve sent the following letter to Voices of Montana.

Gerrity will share his side concerning year round Bison grazing on BLM during the show on Tuesday, February 9th.

2015 12 23 - bison herd - CC

Letter to the Editor:

I appreciate this opportunity to address some apparent confusion regarding

American Prairie Reserve’s request to the Bureau of Land Management concerning a

potential change-of-use on our Flat Creek BLM allotment. Specifically, we asked that

bison be allowed to graze year-round versus part of the year. This request is similar

to year-round requests other local livestock producers have been granted. We also

asked to remove interior fences on the Flat Creek allotment.


There are a number of reasons why we know year-round grazing without

interior fences will work well on Flat Creek. First, many science-based articles

support our strategy. The work, including articles by Drs. Brady Allred at the

University of Montana, Samuel Fuhlendorf at Oklahoma State University and Michel

Kohl at Utah State University, confirms that bison use the land differently than cows.

Rather than graze mostly in one spot, bison tend to move at a steady speed while

feeding. They visit water sources far less frequently than cattle. They usually rest far

from water sources and available shade, tending instead to stay in the open and in

the sun, even in extraordinarily hot weather. Once they graze an area, bison

generally do not return to that exact same spot for some time, mimicking one of the

key features of rest-rotation systems. In short, bison naturally demonstrate the

behaviors that rest-rotation pasturing techniques seek to produce in cows.

Second, we know range health is largely determined by stocking rates versus

rest-rotation systems. Most livestock producers, biologists and agencies have looked

at the steadily-growing body of literature questioning the uniform application of

rest-rotation as the best management method in all cases. This evolving thinking

agrees that there are certain habitats where rest-rotation can be a beneficial and

logical choice, but there is significant evidence that non-fragmented, year-round

pastures can be just as productive, and at times even more beneficial, particularly to

the wild birds and ungulates that share the landscape.


Working under the direction of and approval from the BLM, we keep bison

numbers on these allotments at medium stocking rates to reduce impact on — and

in most cases enhance — the forage and cover that is important for wild species.

Our end goal is to manage the habitat where the bison exist so that it is at least as

good, if not significantly better, than the habitat that surrounds it. The BLM’s range

conservationists monitor all of American Prairie Reserve’s 218,000 acres of BLM

allotments. On Telegraph Creek and Box Elder in particular, where we have 620

bison (total live animals versus cow-calf pairs), they consistently report that the

range fits well within their standards and desired quality levels.

Third, we’ve seen this work in practice. Our Reserve-based team has logged

thousands of hours of close-up observations. They also have analyzed data we

collect using satellite radio collars to track grazing patterns on our other allotments

and can confirm that bison rotate themselves quite efficiently in these large spaces.

(Flat Creek, when fully assembled with its combined BLM allotments and APR

private ground, will total 21,000 acres or about 33 square miles.) In the 10 years

since bison have inhabited our other allotments just to the south of Flat Creek —

during which time we have been phasing in year-round grazing with little or no

interior fencing — we have seen good results as far as improved range conditions

and a healthy coexistence with wildlife.


We continue to conduct research as part of our bison-grazing plan. We are

measuring range and wildlife health on other allotments and will do the same on

Flat Creek. We’re currently conducting our second graduate research study on the

impacts of bison versus cattle grazing through independent universities (Clemson

and the University of Montana).


In summary, we have shown that since starting our herd in 2005, bison can

thrive on this landscape with no detrimental effects on neighboring operations. We

ensure through periodic blood testing that we maintain a healthy, disease-free bison

population. We work closely with the BLM to make sure the habitat stays in very

good condition, is maximizing forage for our bison as well as for wildlife and is

viewed as being well cared for by the visiting public.


We understand that our grazing privileges on BLM land are just that, a

privilege and not a right. Therefore, we are motivated to demonstrate that all BLM

allotments associated with American Prairie Reserve are able to be easily accessed

and enjoyed by the public and are good models of high-quality wildlife habitat.

We encourage anyone with questions about the Flat Creek request to contact

us to learn more about our plans and goals. We will be happy to provide you with

supporting articles and other information. Perhaps most important, we would really

appreciate you accepting our open invitation to visit our operation anytime to learn

firsthand about the bison, the fences, the habitat and to simply talk with us in

person. Contact Reserve Manager Damien Austin (damien@americanprairie.org),

Lead Scientist Kyran Kunkel (kyran@americanprairie.org) or me, Sean Gerrity

(sean@americanprairie.org), with questions or to arrange a visit.

Sean Gerrity

President, American Prairie Reserve