HELENA — Editor's note: The original article incorrectly said the bison herd would be free-roaming. APR's bison are managed as livestock and kept in a defined perimeter. The article has been updated to reflect the corrected information
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has extended the comment period for BLM’s draft Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for a bison grazing proposal on BLM-administered lands in Phillips County, Montana.
The work is part of the American Prairie Reserve (APR) project, a 3 million-acre prairie-based nature reserve in northeastern Montana being developed as a private project of the American Prairie Foundation. Currently, all bison under APR for the proposed grazing are considered livestock and managed as such. None are free-roaming or wild. The herd is kept in an electrified perimeter.
The FONSI found that there were no major federal actions needed, and grazing bison would not have significantly affected the quality of the human environment, individually or cumulatively with other actions in the general area.
Opponents of APR have raised concerns about the spread of disease between bison and cattle, specifically brucellosis. The Phillips County Conservation District and the Montana Livestock Association agreed to a 10-year deal that would require strict bison testing protocol, vaccination standards, procedures for escaped bison, and a public reporting and communication aspect.
The public now has a total of 90 days, ending on Sept. 28, to submit their comments on the EA and FONSI
“While 60 days already far exceeds any requirements for this type of NEPA activity, we recognize this proposal has generated greater public interest than similar grazing permit applications,” said John Mehlhoff, BLM Montana-Dakotas state director. “This public comment period is an important stage of the decision-making process, and we encourage those who choose to participate to submit substantive comments.”
No decision has been made at this stage in the process, he added.
“The NEPA process is designed to solicit public comment regarding the analysis we have conducted on APR’s proposal,” said Mehlhoff. “After careful consideration of the public input we receive, only then will a decision be made.”
The BLM encourages public review and comment on the draft EA and FONSI by visiting the BLM’s ePlanning website at https://eplanning.blm.gov. Search using the NEPA number: DOI-BLM-MT-L010-2018-0007-EA. Public comments may also be submitted via the U.S. Postal Service addressed to: BLM Malta Field Office; Re: APR Grazing Proposal; 501 South 2nd Street East; Malta, MT 59538.
A virtual public meeting remains set for Wednesday, July 21, 1-4 p.m., via Zoom to provide the public an opportunity to comment about the draft EA and FONSI. Pre-registration is required. See the e-Planning project website for more details -- https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/103543/510