BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Some Montana landowners are dropping out of a hunter access program to protest the state's plans to relocate bison from Yellowstone National Park.
The Billings Gazette reports (http://bit.ly/UfmrQJ) dozens of landowners have published their names in northeastern Montana newspaper ads saying they plan to close their lands to hunters until state officials drop those plans.
Retired rancher Rich Sudduth from the Hinsdale area said the move is designed to get the attention of Fish, Wildlife and Parks by cutting into its revenue.
"If the hunters don't have any place to hunt, they won't buy high-dollar licenses," he said.
FWP officials said about 50 of 1,300 landowners have dropped out of a program that pays landowners for public hunting access, including 15 in northeastern Montana.
Six of those 15 landowners cited FWP policies and bison as the reason for not renewing their contracts, according to Alan Charles, who oversees the Block Management Program.
"I understand, the bison issue is going to be a hot one," Charles said. "Landowners, I think, feel frustrated as to how they can influence policy."
The program still has about 8 million acres open to hunters, but in the Hinsdale area, at least, hunters may find their options more limited.
"We have attrition in Block Management every year for various reasons, but this year people are making a statement about the bison by not renewing their contracts," said Pat Gunderson, FWP regional manager in Glasgow. "Our philosophy is to work closely with landowners, and we'll continue to focus on that."
The bison policy protest comes as FWP is in the process of developing a state bison management plan. In March, the agency transferred to the Fort Peck Reservation 64 disease-free Yellowstone bison that had been held for years in a quarantine program.
Ranchers and farmers oppose free-ranging bison because of fears the animals may spread disease to livestock and damage property.
Adding their concern over the state's intentions is the National Wildlife Federation's push to restore wild bison to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge. The American Prairie Reserve also is purchasing ranch lands north of the Missouri River to restore bison to the northeastern Montana prairie landscape.
"I just hope that as the process continues, both sides are willing to come together more and discuss solutions as opposed to not talking at all," said Kit Fischer of the National Wildlife Federation.
Information from: Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com