Jonathan Proctor, Northern Rockies Representative
I have some great news from Montana: All 14 bad bison bills in the Montana Legislature were defeated!
Legislators opposed to the recent progress on wild bison restoration in Montana (including the restoration of 61 wild Yellowstone bison to Fort Peck Reservation and the increase in tolerance for roaming bison around Yellowstone) made 14 separate attempts this year to legislate wild bison out of existence in the state. And 14 times they were defeated.
Some of the legislation never made it to committee. Some bills did, but then died in committee. Still others made it through committees and one or both chambers, but not through the appropriations process. Three, however, passed through both houses and were sent to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. If even one had become law, it would have seriously harmed or even ended our bison restoration work.
But thanks to you and many others who contacted the Governor in support of wild bison, he vetoed all three bills that made it to his desk. He vetoed the first one on April 22, and the final two were vetoed just last week. Please take the time to thank him right now with a quick email, a tweet or a post on his Facebook page.
You may recall these bills from my previous blogs. The bills varied in specifics but all were meant to stop wild bison restoration. One would have allowed county commissioners to veto bison restoration anywhere in their counties, even on federal land or tribal land. Another would have allowed landowners to shoot all bison that step on private property as they wander out of Yellowstone National Park. Another would have forced state officials to remove or kill all bison that cross the imaginary Yellowstone boundary. Yet another would have banned bison restoration altogether.
Now, all 14 bills are just bad memories.
Defenders worked tirelessly with our tribal and conservation allies – and with you, our members – to make this happen. My favorite part was working with several tribes to organize and attend a rally they held inside the capitol building rotunda. The event included a drumming circle that reverberated throughout the building and the capitol’s first-ever pipe ceremony. I also thought the full page ad that several tribes placed in many Montana newspapers was very effective. It generated a lot of calls, and a copy was placed on every legislator’s desk just as several of the most damaging bills were coming up for major committee votes.
Although having to spend time fighting bad bills seems like a waste of time and money, it may prove beneficial in the long run for wild bison restoration. Bison supporters – tribes, hunters and conservationists – are working together now on bison conservation more than ever, and many tribes seem more eager to restore wild bison. More Montanans have heard about this issue as a result and are overwhelmingly on the side of wild bison.
Thank you to everyone who worked together to defeat these bills, especially representatives of the Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, Sioux, Salish, Kootenai, Nez Perce, Crow and Blackfeet Tribes; the Native American Caucus; tribal organizations like Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council and InterTribal Buffalo Council; hunting organizations like Gallatin Wildlife Association; lobbyists Ben Lamb and Jake Troyer; and conservation organizations including World Wildlife Fund, Buffalo Field Campaign, and National Wildlife Federation.
And thank you to our Montana members who contacted our state legislators, and all Defenders’ members for the support you’ve provided that makes outcomes like these possible. We can all breathe a sigh of relief (for now) and celebrate, knowing that bison still have a bright future in Montana. The legislature won’t meet again until 2015, and by then we hope even more Montanans will support the return of wild bison.