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Montana news about the environment, natural resources, wildlife, climate change and more.

Non-profit wildlife reserve gets a permit to graze bison on public lands

American Prairie Reserve map
Daniel Wood/NPR
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American Prairie Reserve, Montana State Library, U.S. Geological Survey 1 Arc-Second SRTM, Natural Earth, Montana Department of Transportation, U.S. Census Bureau, National Park Service
American Prairie Reserve map

A nonprofit organization with a 3-million acre wildlife reserve in north-central Montana has received approval to graze bison on public lands.

American Prairie (formerly known as American Prairie Reserve) has obtained a permit from the federal Bureau of Land Management to graze bison on more than 63,000 acres in Phillips County.

According to a news release from the organization, the reserve hopes to grow their herd to around 1,000 bison by the year 2025. Other parts of the reserve are leased for cattle grazing and support 10,000 head of cattle.

A Bureau of Land Management environmental analysis found in 2021 that bison grazing would have no significant impact on the land or local ranching economy.

Montana Republicans and some locals in the area have long protested the organization’s privately-funded acquisition of ranchlands. They also worry bison could spread disease among cattle.

State Republican lawmakers passed a resolution in 2019 voicing their opposition to the permit. In a statement Thursday, Gov. Greg Gianforte said he shares “frustration” with Montanans over the decision to allow bison grazing and said there wasn’t enough opportunity for public input.

Both Gianforte and Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said they would "consider next steps" after thoroughly reviewing the decision.

In Montana, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur wants to create a massive, privately funded public park. Some ranchers oppose the American Prairie Reserve and say they can better conserve the land.

Shaylee is Montana Public Radio's Capitol reporter. She previously worked for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and covered the 2019 legislative session for the University of Montana's Legislative News Service.