The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) believes the 1.1 million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (CMR) in north-central Montana contains not only the best potential bison habitat in Montana, but anywhere in the United States. NWF's efforts to develop agreements with ranchers to refrain from grazing cattle on the refuge are a key piece of creating the available habitat for this wild-ranging species.
In June, 2012, Montana's Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks began a process to evaluate the prospect of restoring a wild bison population to their native prairie habitat. Public response was unprecedented. Read more about this recent story here. During the 60-day comment period the state received nearly 23,000 comments. This is higher response than for recent proposals regarding wolves and grizzly bears (no small feat!).
In addition to Yellowstone National Park, your gifts to our Adopt-A-Wildlife Acre program enable us to pursue historically significant conservation projects at incomparable wild places like CMR; a landscape and ecosystem that when fully restored has the potential of becoming the “American Serengeti.”
The National Wildlife Federation’s Adopt-An-Acre Project reached an important milestone this past year when we passed the 600,000 mark for the number of “conflict” acres retired. That’s an area more than twice the size of Grand Teton National Park!
This project started in 2002 and has grown steadily since. An early project objective was grizzly bear conservation, as grizzly bear/livestock conflicts on public land grazing allotments adjacent to Yellowstone National Park were causing the killing or relocation of significant numbers of bears. One of the worst problem areas was the west side of the Teton Range, where grizzlies were constantly in conflict with domestic sheep. NWF has successfully retired all of the sheep allotments in this area, providing bears with tens of thousands of acres of secure habitat.
Another focal point of Adopt-A-Wildlife-Acre has been providing winter range for bison that leave Yellowstone Park in harsh winters. Because of fears about disease transmittal, bison were killed by the hundreds when they left the park. But key NWF retirements of livestock allotments near Gardiner and West Yellowstone (Montana) have created room for bison to roam.
The National Wildlife Federation’s latest grazing retirement to benefit wildlife is the 22,000-acre Willow Creek allotment, located on the Bridger-Teton National Forest in northwest Wyoming.
Willow Creek is an important wintering ground for elk, moose and mule deer and in recent years, has provided habitat for grizzly bears and wolves. Its steep, forested slopes lead to congregation of livestock along the major streams in the area, which has resulted in diminished vegetation along the waterways as well as increased sedimentation. State and federal agencies have voiced concern for the native cutthroat trout populations that inhabit Willow Creek and other streams in the allotment.
Like all NWF grazing retirements, this agreement was reached voluntarily with a willing seller, resolving a long-term wildlife/livestock conflict.
The 7,200-acre Slip and Slide retirement, located on the Gallatin National Forest immediately north of Yellowstone National Park near Gardiner, Montana, has been a significant part of the Yellowstone bison controversy for more than a decade. The presence of domestic livestock immediately adjacent to the park – and the consequent governmental concern that bison might mingle with livestock and transmit the disease brucellosis to cattle – has been the primary reason why bison have not been allowed to roam outside of Yellowstone National Park borders.
In 2008, NWF helped negotiate an agreement with the Church Universal and Triumphant to remove cattle from the 6,000 acre Royal Teton Ranch. It was the only significant cattle operation on the west side of the Yellowstone River. The no-grazing agreement was a major breakthrough in resolving the Yellowstone bison controversy.
Now we are ready to take the next step. The Slip and Slide retirement is the only major cattle operation on the east side of the Yellowstone River immediately north of the Park. The only other livestock in the area immediately north of Gardiner are small herds where fencing can maintain adequate separation between cattle and bison. With this Slip and Slide retirement, federal agencies will have run out of reasons not to allow bison to roam outside the Park in the Gardiner Basin.
While the Slip and Slide area is important for bison, it also provides critical winter habitat for elk and mule deer. It’s also an important area for grizzly bears and wolves. The retirement is completely within the Primary Conservation Area for grizzlies that’s been established by state and federal agencies. It has a resident wolf pack, as well. The presence of these large predators has made it challenging to maintain a profitable livestock operation.
NWF’s Adopt-A-Wildlife-Acre Program has seen incredible success since its launch. To date, the program has succeeded in retiring more than 620,000 acres of vital wildlife habitat, securing safe areas for wildlife to roam. This includes more than 566,000 acres in the Yellowstone National Park Region, which was the initial starting point of the program.
Recent highlights include retiring 2,000-acre Bull and Bay Pasture on Montana’s Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, 10,000 acre Wapiti allotment in Montana’s Gallatin National Forest and 45,000 acres on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Montana.
In coordination with federal land managers, NWF negotiates with livestock producers to retire livestock grazing allotments on public lands that experience chronic conflict with wildlife, especially wolves and grizzly bears. This market approach recognizes the economic value of livestock grazing permits and fairly compensates producers for retiring their leases. It also addresses the economic imbalance that exists because wildlife conservation interests are not allowed to compete with livestock producers for grazing leases on public lands. This approach establishes an important new national model for resolving conflicts between livestock and wildlife.
The efforts of Adopt-A-Wildlife-Acre are on-going to retire more acreage across the region in the effort to give wildlife the opportunity to roam and thrive in their native habitat.
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