BILLINGS – A ranching group and Republican state officials have asked a federal panel to reverse the Biden administration’s approval of bison grazing on U.S. lands in central Montana as part of a vast nature reserve.
Federal officials last month approved a request by the group American Prairie to graze bison on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property south of Malta. The Bozeman-based conservation group also intends to remove about 30 miles (48 kilometers) of fences so the animals can roam more freely.
The Montana Stockgrowers Association said Monday it had appealed the decision to the U.S. Interior Department’s hearings division. Gov. Greg Gianforte and Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen also filed appeals.
An attorney for the stockgrowers association—a ranching group based in Helena—argued that the land at issue should be used to produce livestock, not for wildlife preservation.
“The public has an interest in maintaining community stability and the livelihoods of ranchers,” stockgrowers attorney Karen Budd-Falen wrote. She added that federal laws “do not grant any power to issue grazing permits for anything other than domestic livestock.”
Budd-Falen served as deputy solicitor at the Interior Department during the Trump administration.
American Prairie Vice President Pete Geddes said he was confident that the grazing authority had been properly granted. The conservation group planned to intervene to defend the Bureau of Land Management decision, he said.
The grazing area in dispute covers about 108 square miles (280 square kilometers). It will allow American Prairie to increase the size of its bison herd from about 800 animals to 1,000 bison by 2025, the group said.
Its long-term goal is to piece together a 5,000-square-mile (13,000-square-kilometer) expanse of public and private lands with thousands of bison and other wildlife.
Massive herds of bison migrated through the region until the animals were hunted to near-extinction in the 19th century.