Governor drops bison plan, says he’s protecting ranchers

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said Tuesday he is ending a bison management plan that would have allowed the wide-ranging animals to be restored in more areas of the state.

The Republican said in the interest of protecting ranchers, the state has settled a lawsuit brought by a property rights group over the plan’s adoption. The group filed the suit last year against the administration of Gianforte’s Democratic predecessor, Gov. Steve Bullock.

Under Bullock, Gianforte said, the state’s wildlife agency “didn’t do right by farmers ranchers and private property owners.”

“In it’s effort to spread bison across parts of Montana, (Fish, Wildlife and Parks) didn’t do enough to account for the impacts to local communities,” Gianforte said in a statement.

He said the agency also had relied on outdated data and failed to consider the risks of disease transmission between bison and livestock.

Gianforte’s office did not release the settlement as part of the announcement and did not immediately respond to a request for the document from The Associated Press.

United Property Owners of Montana claimed in its lawsuit that state officials had not adequately examined how wild bison could impact ranchers and farmers. Bison in sufficient numbers could compete with livestock for forage on public grazing lands, and ranchers also have raised worries about them spreading animal diseases.

The idea of restoring bison to more areas of Montana had been met with enthusiasm by wildlife advocates, who had long pushed for the animals to be treated by the state as free-roaming wildlife, rather than livestock that’s subject to capture and slaughter.

Bison are absent from most areas of the state. The largest population is in Yellowstone National Park. Bison that migrate from the park into Montana each winter are culled primarily through slaughter and hunting to prevent the spread of the disease brucellosis, which can cause animals to prematurely abort their young.

Brucellosis has been eradicated in the U.S. outside the Yellowstone region. No known transmissions from wild bison to cattle have been recorded.

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