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DOI Secretary and BLM Director Admit Knowing Nothing About Bison, Zinke Demands Accountability, Transparency & Fairness for Montana Ranchers and Farmers

March 2, 2016
Press Release

DOI Secretary and BLM Director Admit Knowing Nothing About Bison, Zinke Demands Accountability, Transparency & Fairness for Montana Ranchers and Farmers

BLM Chief to Zinke: “You’re educating me on this”

 

(CONGRESS) March 2, 2016 – This week, in two separate House Natural Resources Committee hearings, Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze admitted to Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke that they knew nothing about the potential change-in-use permit for free-range bison that could impact up to three million acres in Montana. Director Kornze thanked Zinke for “educating” him on the issue.

On Tuesday, after Rep. Zinke explained the issue to Secretary Jewell, she claimed knowing nothing about the three-million acre project: “I am not specifically familiar with how bison graze range versus cattle graze range.”

Then, just 24 hours after asking Kornze’s boss about the bison, Zinke reiterated his concerns and question to Director Neil Kornze. When asked if the BLM intended to perform an Environmental Impact Study, Kornze admitted to Zinke, “Well Congressman I appreciate the question and you’re educating me on this. I am going to have to get some more materials together and would be happy to come visit with you about this if you would be interested.”

“What’s the point of having these bureaucrats come before Congress if they don’t know a damn thing about  multi-million acre projects that they have some jurisdiction over?” said Zinke. “Farmers and ranchers in the CMR and surrounding area could lose their livelihoods. This is a big deal, and for the BLM and DOI to not even put the time in to learn about the issue is a slap in the face to Montana. Heads will roll. This is not acceptable.”

The American Prairie Reserve, a special interest group whose leadership is stacked with coastal hedge fund managers, is targeting three million acres of land in Montana to establish a free-range bison habitat. While buying up private land and acquiring federal land leases, their plan has continually marginalized local ranchers, farmers, and residents.

 

The BLM has come under fire for repeatedly displaying preferential treatment to the group.  In January, Rep. Zinke hosted a town hall meeting in Malta, Montana, where more than 150 area ranchers and residents came out to speak against the APR plan. As a result of the very hushed announcement over the Christmas holidays, Zinke also led fourteen of his House colleagues in a letter to strongly urge the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to increase opportunities for local input in critical land management decisions.

The exchange between Rep. Zinke and BLM Director Kornze is below (WATCH: March 2, 2016):

ZINKE: Buffalo is a big problem in Montana and you had mentioned in your opening remarks that public service is important to you and that we had sent, myself and fourteen colleagues, had sent a letter expressing that the lack of public involvement in the process.  Recently I went up to Malta, Montana, which is in Phillips County and the whole theatre was filled with people about the buffalo.  And this is my problem, we have leasing from cattle, and the requirements of the lease are that you can only have a certain number of cattle per acre, that there is fencing involved, that the U.S. Fish and Game has sensitive habitat that has been identified, and you can’t graze year round. There are a number of provisions that the cattlemen are required to uphold, and I agree with all those.  But, the proposal is that if you raise buffalo, somehow you don’t have to have fences or don’t have buffalo per acre. You can graze year round. Then I look at the NEPA process and I think that we are all respectful of our environment certainly, is the intent to run an EIS, because the change from cattle with these restrictive rules to buffalo with no rules? That seems to be a pretty big scope in change.  Is the intent of the BLM to run an EIS as you evaluate whether the leasing would change?

KORNZE: Well Congressman, I appreciate the question and you’re educating me on this. I am going to have to get some more materials together and would be happy to come visit with you about this if you would be interested.

ZINKE: I am because I look at fairness of the ranchers. I have nothing against buffalo provided that they are brucellosis free, and that the grazing rules are the same, and that we look and respect our environment. We need to make sure that the rules are the same. 

And the other part of your opening statement was how important public input was to it.  And Mr. Chairman I would like to input this into the record this is an article in the agency allowing buffalo to graze within Montana. It was released on December 30th, you know over Christmas, but what the notification doesn’t include is if there is a complaint or an avenue for public input.  I think that the good citizens around us should be given access to this.  But it has the appearance of jamming something in, because someone in New York wants to put buffalo in Montana. Which I don’t have a problem with but the problem is that the process has to be fair and open, and I can tell you that the ranchers and farmers in Montana work real hard, and it is not easy to farm or ranch, especially around the CMR. When they see that the rules are applied differently from what they think would be an agenda. 

And that’s upsetting, and that is why you have such push back from Montana and a lot of the western states, cause its viewed as a war against the west.  Now I am asking you to take a look at this and Mr. Chairman it is in the record. The communication part isn’t there. I want is your commitment that on such things there is going to be a public comment period that is adequate so that people can voice their opinion and an EIS so we can evaluate what scope, what ramifications are of change. 

KORNZE: We definitely need an open and fair process, and I will look into that and make an appointment to come see you.  Thank you.

ZINKE: Thank you I yield back.

 

Zinke’s exchange with DOI Secretary Sally Jewell is below (WATCH: March 1, 2016):

ZINKE: Turn to the Buffalo which is a big issue in Montana with the BLM. I went out to Montana, toured across and there was concern about placing the buffalo, and the argument is this, the cattlemen that lease BLM land are required to have a certain number of animals per acre, required to have fences, required not to graze year-round and there are a number of U.S. Fish and Game areas that have been identified for grazing not to occur. 

The fear is that when the buffalo came in it feels like we’ve scraped all those rules away.  That the proposal is that buffalo don’t have to have number of buffalo per acre, fences are going to be removed because buffalo are very difficult to keep in a fence, and year round grazing, and you talk about the NEPA process. If we are going to make a change of that scope, don’t you think, would you agree that the same environmental impact would apply to cattle as they do to buffalo?

JEWELL: I know there is a specific national bison plan. I am not specifically familiar with how bison graze range versus cattle graze range. All that would be taken into account if we take federal action to impact that. I’m going to get back to you on the record with more information on that if that is…

ZINKE: Well the national bison plan is by a group that, and you know I have never had a problem with public, private land whether you do it with the provisions in place for the cattle and buffalo to live in a relative level of harmony. But on public land if we are obligated to have the same environmental review, and if there are brucellosis problems that need to be addressed, but the plan has never been through the state of Montana, where it affects.

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