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Will "no Hunting" signs come down?

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced last month that it is scaling back plans to establish a free-roaming bison herd in the state.

That should come as good news to hunters after ranchers across Montana pulled more than 300,000 acres out of the Block Management program last fall in protest of FWP policies.

Now maybe those “No Hunting due to FWP” signs in northeastern Montana will come down.

They certainly should. The ranchers got what they wanted.

  How it came about, however, remains a mystery.

A mid-April meeting scheduled in Lewistown between pro- and anti-bison groups was cancelled after ranchers pledged to protest the event. A week later FWP told the Associated Press it was no longer considered viable to establish a herd of free-roaming bison.

“Free-roaming is unrealistic,” said FWP Director Jeff Hagener. “There’s going to have to be some level of containment.”

  The names of about 70 ranchers from Phillips and Valley counties ran in an advertisement in local papers last fall saying they wouldn’t allow hunters on their property until FWP dropped its plans to release bison in the area.

The ploy apparently worked. Although FWP isn’t dropping its bison conservation plan entirely, it is scaling back a proposal to create a herd of roughly 1,000 animals to a pilot project with as few as 50 animals.

Hagener told the AP he hopes to have a range of new alternatives before the Legislature meets in January. The FWP originally planned to have a bison conservation plan in place by the end of this year.

There has been little reaction to the department’s announcement from either the pros or the antis. The Montana Stockgrowers Association website isn’t carrying the news. Neither is the website for the Montana Community Preservation Alliance, a group dedicated to the opposition of free-roaming bison.

The Gallatin Wildlife Association, which supported the idea of a free-roaming bison herd in Montana, doesn’t yet have the news on its website.

Whether that’s an indication that the battle is far from over or folks are simply tired of the fight, I don’t know.

I do know FWP has changed its plans and that’s what the ranchers wanted. Now I’m waiting to see if all those ranchers who closed their land to hunters will welcome us back this fall.

Parker Heinlein is at 

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