A billionaire-funded group’s plan to seal off hundreds of thousands of acres of land from agricultural use is drawing condemnation in Montana, with residents of the rural state pointing to the group’s plan as a threat to their way of life.
The American Prairie has obtained over 450,000 acres of land in Montana alone since 2004, with the plan of reserving them for wildlife and a “fully functioning ecosystem,” according to Fox News.
The group’s foreign donors include Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss and deceased German businessman Erivan Haub.
The group has applied for authorization from the Bureau of Land Management for bison grazing on large portions of its Montana land holdings twice since 2017, using laws ordinarily intended to apply for livestock grazing.
Bison are wild animals, rather than livestock, with no role in modern-day commercial food production.
Montanans aren’t enthusiastic about the billionaire-funded group’s plans to seal off farmland from ranching and agricultural use.
Both @SteveDaines and @GovGianforte release statements disapproving of BLM’s decision to approve proposal by American Prairie Reserve to allow bison grazing in Phillips Co. #mtnews #mtpol pic.twitter.com/dXaboEFbj0
— Maritsa Georgiou (@MaritsaGeorgiou) July 28, 2022
The central Montana counties where the group has aggressively expanded its land holdings are heavily dependent on cattle ranching.
Much of the lands the group now owns were once used by ranchers in the area.
The American Prairie Foundation plans to release wild bison onto their land holdings, a plan that’s concerning to local cattle ranchers.
The ranchers fear the animals will infect their livestock with brucellosis, a disease that affects cattle and elk.
In a statement provided to the Western Journal, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen criticized the Bureau of Land Management for approving bison grazing on federal land leased by the group on Thursday.
“After shutting out public input from local communities, it’s not a surprise that President Biden’s Bureau of Land Management would rubber-stamp this radical proposal that is another step toward displacing northeast Montana’s livestock industry and replacing it with a large outdoor zoo.”
“My office is reviewing the decision closely to determine our next steps to protect ranchers and ensure the State’s interests are upheld.”
Knudsen said, “It’s just flatly illegal,” referring to the use of federal grazing permit laws for wild bison in another statement to Fox News.
Other residents of the state are pointing to the American Prairie Foundation’s plan as an encroachment on their communities from out-of-state interests.
“Those donors are able to write those contributions off as a charitable donation, so they don’t have to live with the consequences of what they’re doing to these communities,” said Chuck Denowh, policy director at the United Property Owners of Montana, speaking to Fox.
Eight hundred bison already live in lands either owned or leased by the American Prairie Foundation. The group hopes to increase its bison population by thousands.
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