Tribal leaders, conservationists and sportsmen are banding together under the Capitol Rotunda today to oppose a slate of proposals targeting bison conservation that actually survived the transmittal deadline. This isn't your run-of-the-mill legislative rally. Fort Belknap has supplied an entire bison—dead and served up in chili, of course—for a massive bison feed open to the public and legislators alike. The event lasts from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today.
"Bison have been at the center of a debate about whether wildlife can co-exist with Montana’s farms and ranches and what areas may be appropriate for future restoration efforts," Defenders of Wildlife spokesman Jonathan Procter wrote in a release announcing the event last week. "This session, the legislature has introduced 10 bills targeting bison—an attempt by a select few legislators to derail tribal and state-led restoration efforts. While tribes, sportsmen and conservationists have successfully worked together to defeat many of these bills, five bills remain active that would negatively impact current and future bison management and restoration efforts."
Several of the bison bills that failed to make it far this session would have rewritten the entire book on management of the ungulates, including Senate Bill 249, which sought to strengthen the legal right of landowners to shoot bison on sight if they feel private property is at risk. Defenders of Wildlife offered a run-down last week of the proposals that are still alive in the legislature; among them are House Bill 396, which gives county commissioners veto power over bison restoration in their counties, and SB 143, which orders Montana officials to kill any wild bison migrating into Montana from Yellowstone National park.
Procter, whose group played a key role in getting quarantined Yellowstone bison to Fort Peck last year, said today's event will also feature a drum circle and a host of guest speakers including Fort Peck Tribal Councilman Tom Christian. Christian led the welcoming ceremony for the bison last spring alongside then-governor Brian Schweitzer. After today's event in the rotunda, bison conservation proponents will attend committee meetings on two of the still-active bills in an attempt to see them defeated as well.
This post was updated Wednesday morning to correct an error.