HELENA, Mont. – Montana wildlife officials today announced the release of a draft Environmental Impact Statement to establish guidelines for when, where and how wild bison can be restored across Montana. When completed, this statewide bison management plan will guide future bison restoration in the state.
Steve Forrest, Defenders’ senior representative for the Rockies and Plains, issued the following statement:
“Nearly eight in ten Montanans support restoring wild bison to some public lands in the state, and it’s wonderful to see Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks support its constituents by developing a plan to accomplish that goal.”
“Montana is blessed with an abundance of public lands where wild bison could once again roam. One of the best places in Montana for wild bison restoration is the 1.1 million acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. With its vast expanses of public lands, this is an ideal location for conservation of this American icon. It’s our hope that the final plan for wild bison restoration will include the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and other appropriate lands.”
Bison were nearly eliminated from their historic range over a century ago. By the late 1890s, only 1,000 bison remained in North America, and most of these animals were held on private ranches where they were interbred with cattle. By 1902, only 25 bison remained in the wild in the U.S., seeking refuge deep within Yellowstone National Park. Today, this Yellowstone herd numbers around 4,500 animals.
Recently, the tribal governments of Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Indian reservations – with the support and assistance of Montana and conservation organizations – have undertaken two successful relocation efforts of wild Yellowstone bison on tribal lands in eastern Montana – the heart of the species’ historic range. But until now, Montana has not developed a blueprint to guide and support wild bison restoration efforts on public lands across the state.
This announcement of an Environmental Impact Statement for bison restoration in Montana marks another important step in Montana’s plan to facilitate and support the recovery of this landmark native species. For the next 90 days, the public is encouraged to comment on the state’s proposed plan.
A public opinion survey released in January showed 76 percent of Montanans support restoring bison populations on some public lands in the state.