Monday, April 15, 2013

Montana's Senator John Brenden's "Heathen Into Christian" Bison.

Recently,  Sen. John Brenden, on April 11th, 2013, during the SB 143 hearing before the House Agriculture Committee, compared wild bison in Montana, to heathens, and domesticated bison to Christians, "They are maintaining that bison from Yellowstone National Park are wildlife. There's been bills and discussions put in, that once they are in captivity, they become domesticated, or they're livestock. If I knew the exact transition, the moment that you go from being a heathen into a Christian, I don't know that answer. It's a very difficult one."

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This statement has larger ramifications than just the speciesism against wild bison in Montana; this is racism, against the Native American tribes, whose culture is intertwined with the bison. Brenden did not make an association of value between wild and domesticated bison, but made a moral association, which does not apply to animals, but to people.

The Native Americans across the U.S., as well as indigenous peoples across the world, have often been subjected to forced conversions to Christianity, or another dominant religion, in the guise of "civilizing" or "domesticating" them. This arrogant perspective that one belief system is superior and needs to be imposed on another is deplorable. The very term "heathen", from Old English hæðen, means "not Christian or Jewish". Perhaps this was a "Freudian Slip", revealing his views of Native Americans being herded onto reservations to be "domesticated" and often converted to Christianity, as being superior to those Native Americans that desire to uphold an older spiritual culture that views bison as kin.

In Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, by Richard Erdoes and John Fire Lame Deer, Lame Deer states, "It is the same with the buffalo. They have the power and the wisdom. We Sioux have a close relationship with the buffalo. He is our brother. We have many legends of buffalo changing themselves into men. And the Indians are built like the buffalo, too-big shoulders, narrow hips. According to our belief, the Buffalo Woman who brought us the peace pipe, which is at the center of our religion, was a beautiful maiden, and after she taught our tribes how to worship with the pipe, she changed herself into a white buffalo calf. So the buffalo is very sacred to us. You cant understand about nature, about the feelings we have toward it, unless you understand how close we are to the buffalo. That animal was almost like a part of ourselves, part of our souls.

The buffalo gave us everything we needed. Without it we were nothing. Our tipis were made of his skin. His hide was our bed, our blanket, our winter coat. It was our drum, throbbing through the night, alive, holy. Out of his skin we made our water bags. His flesh strengthened us, became flesh of our flesh. Not the smallest part of it was wasted. His stomach, a red-hot stone dropped into it, became our soup kettle. His horns were our spoons, the bones our knives, our women's awls and needles. Out of his sinews we made our bowstrings and thread. His ribs were fashioned into sleds for our children, his hoofs became rattles. His mighty skull, with the pipe leaning against it, was our sacred altar. The name of the greatest of all Sioux was Tatanka Iyotake--Sitting Bull. When you killed off the buffalo you also killed the Indian--the real, natural, 'wild' Indian." 

Now, that is not Christianity. That is what Sen. John Brenden would say was "heathen" - juxtaposed to Christianity. And this interconnectedness is not isolated to just the Lakota nation. While not having researched the other Montanan nations yet, I have heard a number of other Nations speak of the Bison, as related and sacred. An example of this was evident at the Montana Bison Rally, at the Helena Capitol, on March 12th, 2013. This video clip was made by the Buffalo Field Campaign. As soon as I can edit the full version of Sen. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy's speech, I will put it up. She spoke very clearly on the importance of the bison to the Native American nations in Montana.

This comment of Brenden's needs to be challenged and publicly called into question. He needs to be held accountable. Racism and lack of tolerance for other's spiritual practices has no place in a "civilized" society, certainly not in our legislature. 

Kathryn QannaYahu

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Raid on Our Wildlife Management Areas

Our Montana Wildlife Management Areas are a public trust resource. Purchased with hunters’ dollars, they are owned by the people. Present and future generations of Montanans are the legal beneficiaries of the trust. Fish, Wildlife & Parks is the “trustee”, obligated to manage these trust lands to benefit the public owners.

However, special interests are always ready to turn the benefits of a public trust resource into private gains, even at the expense of public needs and values. They seek to (1) obtain privileged access to our public trust lands, and (2) control the trustee. They will use the legislature and the law to accomplish their private goals. Public diligence is needed to assure proper management of trust resources for public benefits. And so it is with our state WMAs and FWP. 

Livestock on our WMAs

Private domestic livestock graze wildlife forage and cover, and displace wildlife, on at least 21 WMAs. In some cases, entire WMAs are in livestock grazing programs.

Limited livestock grazing can be a useful tool for managing vegetation to benefit some types of wildlife. But levels and frequency of livestock use on our WMAs almost always exceed beneficial levels. Most WMA pastures are grazed 2 years out of every 3. FWP has not been able to provide clear evidence that wildlife populations, especially big game, have responded positively to the effects of livestock grazing on WMAs. In fact, most data indicate negative effects. Effects on streamside vegetation and fisheries are often ignored. Abundant scientific literature documents negative impacts of cattle grazing to wildlife. 

Usually, FWP is paid for public forage used by private livestock, mostly at less than private-land rates. FWP expenses for managing private grazing have included costs for fencing and water developments, and costs for fencing cattle out of wetlands and other habitats prone to severe use. Personnel costs for monitoring grazing projects and for preparing and administering contracts and environmental assessments are never reported, and must be large.

FWP touts “good landowner relations” as a benefit from private grazing on our WMAs. No doubt, there is some truth to this claim. But neighborliness does not usually require one neighbor’s access to the other neighbor’s property.

Many private grazing cooperators allow hunting on adjacent private lands, but this is seldom required in contracts to graze public lands. Some cooperators are already paid for hunter access through the Block Management program.

If the private use of WMA forage is considered a trade, compensating for big-game use of forage on private lands, this goal should be clearly stated and analyzed in each environmental assessment for each WMA grazing contract. It is likely that the amount and value of WMA forage used by livestock exceeds the value of forage used seasonally by big game on adjacent private land.

On 21 of our WMAs, each private grazing project is unique with its own set of public benefits and costs. However, the overall program is immense, as are costs for managing the program. In reviewing numerous environmental assessments for many grazing projects, it is clear that private benefits greatly exceed net public benefits. 

Livestock Trailing across WMAs

The most narrowly focused special-interest use of a WMA is supported by law. This law provides special privileges to one domestic sheep operation on one WMA. However, it could be used by other livestock operators on other WMAs. The law requires permitting of livestock trailing across any WMA under almost any circumstances. Unlike all other commercial uses of WMAs, FWP may not require a fee for livestock trailing, or for forage used in the operation. (Currently, over 16,000 domestic sheep are trailed in up to 6 bands, twice yearly across Robb/Ledford WMA, taking at least 2 days for each passage. The forage removed is not trivial.) The law allows trailing for up to 4 days across a WMA! FWP may not analyze the impacts of such trailing as the law exempts trailing across a WMA from analysis under the Montana Environmental Protection Act. In the public interest, this law should be repealed.

Required Logging Access

Recent Montana law threatens to make wildlife habitat a secondary goal on forested WMAs, with timber management a priority. It (1) requires FWP to have a forest management plan and timber sale program funded with FWP monies, (2) requires an annual timber sale, and (3) requires FWP funds be used to remeasure the annual sustainable yield of timber from FWP forested lands at least once each 5 years. In requiring that FWP’s forest management plan be based upon the annual sustainable yield, and in emphasizing the measurement of annual sustainable yield, the law will make it politically difficult for FWP to permit anything less than this amount of timber to be removed from forested WMAs each year. FWP receipts from sale of timber may only be used to plan additional timber harvests on WMAs. For timber companies, it’s about like owning the land, while FWP pays the property taxes. Another law needing repeal. 

Haying and Sharecropping

Other WMAs have contracts for removal of hay and for sharecropping to produce a variety of agricultural crops. Wildlife responses to these activities are seldom, if ever, measured adequately. Public benefits are assumed but unclear. Total public costs are unreported. Some WMAs have both private grazing and sharecropping or haying projects.

With sharecropping, a portion of the agricultural crop is left unharvested for wildlife, often pheasants, to use. If the unharvested portion is 20% of the area, the wildlife value of the agricultural crop would have to be 5 times as great, on a per-acre basis, as the year-round value of land not placed in the sharecropping program and growing native vegetation – just to break even! 

Private Capture and Control

The strategy of “capture the public trust resource and control the trustee” is a major threat to Montana wildlife and Montana wildlife lands. The constant but incremental loss from the public trust has gone largely unnoticed for too long. There is an urgent need to hold our legislature, and FWP, accountable for this loss. A widespread critical focus on WMA management is one place to start. 

FWP WMAs with private livestock grazing
Kootenai/Woods Ranch
Mt. Silcox
Wall Creek
Mt. Haggin
Ear Mtn.
Fresno Reservoir
Isaac Homestead
Smith River
Elk Island
Seven Sisters
1Area of WMA, may exceed acres that are grazed.

Jim Bailey
Retired Wildlife Biologist