by Laura Lundquist, Chronicle Staff Writer
Meant to clarify the process of managing bison, the Interagency Bison Management Plan this week is providing fodder for a bison tug-of-war between opposing groups.
On Friday, the Montana Farm Bureau released a statement saying federal agencies risk violating the plan if they halt helicopter use during the bison haze.
MFB director John Youngberg cited the section of the plan that says bison must be moved from grazing allotments 30 days prior to the arrival of cattle.
“Ranchers normally move their cattle into the area bison currently inhabit round June 15,” Youngberg said. “However, it is unlikely bison will be able to be moved out of that area by May 15 unless helicopters are used.”
However, May 15 is not a hard deadline, as evidenced by last year’s haze, which was delayed until June.
The MFB statement was prompted by news that the Alliance of the Wild Rockies had filed on Wednesday for a restraining order and injunction against helicopter hazing. The associated lawsuit also cites the management plan but focuses on the section that states that hazing would cease if there was evidence of grizzlies active in the area.
“I can’t say which (section) should take priority. That’s a balance that must be made by somebody else,” Youngberg said.
Youngberg said he didn’t know if MFB would take any legal action if helicopters were grounded. MFB has limited means, so members would have to consider the benefits of any action, Youngberg said.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies had no response.
On Friday, attorneys for the alliance and government agencies entered negotiations but they fell apart, AWR director Michael Garrity said. The District Court hearing on the restraining order is still scheduled for Monday in Helena.
Yellowstone National Park managers did not request a temporary suspension of operations from Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Thursday. However, they did discuss the specifics of day-to-day operations with the governor’s staff, said park spokesman Dan Hottle.
The helicopter was up on Friday; however, it flew at a higher altitude as it helped herd about 30 straggling bison, Hottle said. Park managers had asked that the helicopter not fly as low as it has in the past.
“We all agree that the bison need to be returned to the park, and there are situations where we need the helicopter,” Hottle said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t differ in expectations of how that should be done.”
The governor’s resource adviser, Mike Voleski, said Friday that there was some miscommunication.
“There was no request to stop the haze,” Voleski said. “There was some consternation at the staff level about how they were going to do this. But other than the conversation I had with (superintendent) Dan Wenk yesterday, there was no question about what had been agreed to.”