Montana Legislature

Feb 25, 2013 2:23 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News

Bison management bills stir emotions in Helena

HELENA - Montana's Native American lawmakers are standing in strong opposition to several attempts to manage bison in the state.

Reporter Marnee Banks spoke with lawmakers on both sides to get a sense of this very sensitive issue.

Republican lawmakers are proposing 10 bills which address the state's management of bison.

They include everything from creating a statewide bison hunting season to a bill which allows landowners to kill bison if they trespass onto private property.

"There has been complete mismanagement by the state of Montana number one, and even bigger than the mismanagement and bison by Montana is the federal government's inability to manage the buffalo in Yellowstone Park," Montana Senator John Brenden (R-Scobey) stated.

Sen. Brenden chairs the Fish and Game committee, sand says farmers and ranchers are asking for relief. They are concerned about bison trampling their fence, eating their hay, and risking the spread of brucellosis to livestock.

However, the members of the American Indian Caucus sees the bills differently.

"Unfortunately the American Indian Caucus sees these as direct attacks against the indigenous people of Montana." State Senator Sharon Stewart-Peregoy (D-Crow Agency) countered.

They say while the bills violate treaties and private property rights, the bigger concern is cultural and spiritual.

"The reason why it's so upsetting to American Indians, particularly the plains tribes, is that it was just 300 - 400 years ago, that isn't that isn't too far back in history, that it was our livelihood," Sen. Stewart-Peregoy said.

"I can understand where they come from, but just remember one thing, the buffalo created all kinds of things for a living for tribes years and years ago. I mean it was their food, it was their clothing, it was their housing, it was all kinds of things. But we're in modern America today. Free-roaming buffalo absolutely will not work, no different than if we had dinosaurs," Sen. Brenden said.

The American Indian Caucus would like to see the state abide by the current management plans that are in place, while Republicans who are carrying the bills say the current plan just isn't working.

The American Indian Caucus is hosting a roundtable discussion about bison management on March 7 and they are inviting all stakeholders to participate.

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