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Special Alert 11/09/08
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*Special Alert! RTR Comment Period EXTENDED!

Dear Buffalo Friends,
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has *extended* the comment period on the RTR land "deal" until November 21, 2008. So, if you haven't sent in your comments yet, there is still time! Thank you to everyone who has already submitted comments - there's been a great outpouring and you are helping to make a positive difference for the buffalo - thank you. NOTE: FWP was having some trouble receiving some emails, so those who have already sent their letters may want to resend them. Everyone should request receipt confirmation in your personalized comments, and you may want to follow-up with an email to FWP's Rebecca Cooper at rcooper@mt.gov.

Thank you for being a voice for the last wild population of American bison!
Roam Free,

* Comment! RTR Purchase is a Lousy Land Deal for Wild Buffalo
Your public comments are needed by 5:00 pm, Friday, November 21, 2008, on the so-called land deal - a 30-year lease of grazing rights from the Royal Teton Ranch - between state and federal agencies, some conservation groups, and the Church Universal & Triumphant (CUT). If this land lease goes through, CUT will receive more millions for leasing their land for a mere 30 years so that a handful of captured, tested, and tagged bison could temporarily occupy portions of their native range outside Yellowstone's north boundary. Over the years, thousands of wild bison have been slaughtered for even looking in the direction of these lands. Back in 1998-99, $13 million U.S. tax dollars were spent to allow wild bison and other migratory wildlife safe passage through this critical corridor, but to date, bison have been repeatedly harassed and killed for attempting to access these lands. Now, the agencies involved are touting it as a huge step forward, when, in reality, it is a corridor to nowhere with only 25 buffalo gaining temporary access to it and only after being run through the typical buffalo torture gauntlet of capture, testing, telemetry device implants, and tagging.

The agencies are pressing forward with the process and, having finished the scoping phase. They have quickly prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA). FWP is accepting public comments on the draft EA through Friday, October 31. Click here to send comments now and to review talking points and supporting information. Information is also pasted below for your convenience. FWP must receive your comments by 5:00 pm MST Friday, November 21, 2008.

Please send your comments to:
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Attn: RTR Grazing Rights Purchase
1420 East Sixth Avenue
P.O. Box 200701
Helena, MT 59620-0701
email: RTRgrazing@mt.gov

Please also send a copy of your comments to Buffalo Field Campaign
at bfc-media"at"wildrockies.org. Thank you and roam free!

Please use the talking points below to craft your individual comments on the Draft Environmental Assessment for the Royal Teton Ranch Grazing Restriction and Bison Access Agreement.

Supporting information for each of the talking points is also posted below for your use.
Please be sure to *personalize* your comments, as these carry more weight with decision-makers. Thank you!

1. An extension on the comment period is requested. Two weeks is a severely inadequate amount of time to read through, digest and comment on a 74 page Environmental Assessment that has such a significant impact on America's last wild population of bison and U.S. taxpayers.

2. The proposed action is a major federal action requiring NEPA analysis as well as MEPA analysis, and requires full analysis in an EIS

3. The EA is deficient and does not include an adequate range of alternatives

4. The EA references related agreements not provided and the proposed action threatens to influence and bias these contractual agreements

5. The proposed action further threatens to restrict management adaptation in the IBMP, and inappropriately relies on approval by a private party

6. The proposed action may reduce the ecological benefits of having wild bison on the landscape

The proposed action is a major federal action requiring NEPA analysis as well as MEPA analysis, and requires full analysis in an EIS.

While Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks' (MFWP) draft Environmental Assessment (EA) indicates it relies on the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) and its EIS "to guide the proposed action" (EA at 37), it is unclear whether MFWP intends to tier to that EIS. Whether MFWP does or does not intend to tier to the IBMP, a full environmental analysis is necessary for the proposed action, and an EIS should be prepared. This is necessary for at least two reasons.

First, the IBMP is flawed and requires a supplemental EIS, as both signatory organizations to these comments and others indicated in a letter to Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis and copied to the cooperating state and federal agencies including MFWP on October 21, 2008. That letter is hereby incorporated by reference in its entirety. Second, a full EIS must be prepared for the proposed action because the proposed lease is for thirty years while the IBMP was approved for only fifteen years in 2000. Therefore, no analysis exists for the life of the proposed action beyond the draft EA.

Additionally, the proposed action constitutes major federal action, and MFWP must work with the involved federal agencies to prepare a full EIS, or the federal agencies must prepare an EIS in addition to MFWP's. The federal government is making a substantial contribution to the action through YNP's $1.5 million dollar contribution, triggering federal NEPA requirements as well as the MEPA requirements. Because this action raises substantial questions that impacts will be significant, the state and federal agencies must prepare a full EIS with a full range of alternatives.

The EA is deficient and does not include an adequate range of alternatives
The EA is deficient and legally inadequate. We request that this be rectified by preparing an EIS with a wider range of alternatives and providing additional time for the public to review new information requested herein and contribute comments on the proposed action by the State of Montana.

The range of alternatives A (RTR 30 year lease) and B (no action) is inadequate. Alternatives should include, but should not be limited to the following: purchase of the grazing right in perpetuity, managing wild bison as a free ranging wildlife species, bypassing Church Universal and Triumphant lands with a wildlife crossing to suitable habitat east of the Yellowstone River, and adapting Zone management changes in the IBMP to allow bison migration east and west of the Yellowstone River.

The EA is specifically deficient in that it does not provide adequate analysis of the following: factual information regarding fencing use and installment including location, extent, and type of fencing and the duration of installment; impacts of fencing on other wildlife including elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelope and bison, and impacts on grizzly bears, gray wolves and eagles based on impacted movements of the ungulates; impacts of fencing on wildlife access to critical habitat purchased and conserved with thirteen million dollars of taxpayer money in the Royal Teton Ranch land agreement in 1999; financial analysis for the proposed agreement such as sources of funding secured, pledged or otherwise sought; and additional information related to a potential additional bison trap on Gallatin National Forest lands that may be constructed as part of the lease agreement or under the IBMP in the project area of the proposed action.
Additionally, despite assurances by MFWP, the fact is nearly several miles of electrified fencing will be installed and operated in a critical wildlife corridor during winter and spring. These negative and long term impacts to migrating wildlife include but are not limited to impeding free movement to water and forage. There is also a probability of electrocution of bird species that may use the fence posts as perches, and or attempt to perch on electrified wires. Fencing - even the most carefully designed and operated available - is a negative and major impact on native wildlife species in a known wildlife corridor.

Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks must also conduct a cultural resource survey to prevent loss or damage to important cultural sites that may be impacted in this decision. "SHPO has recommended FWP conduct a cultural resource survey along the fencing path in order to determine whether or not sites exist and if they will be impacted." (EA at 32) "Based on the existing circumstances, FWP is not required to conduct a cultural resource survey along the proposed fence line." (EA at 33)

The EA references related agreements not provided and the proposed action threatens to influence and bias these contractual agreements

The Environmental Assessment references a RTR Bison Management Plan (EA at 6) Exhibit D (EA at 13). However, there is a blank page and no plan presented in Exhibit D. To our knowledge no such plan has been agreed to by Church Universal & Triumphant and the U.S. Forest Service, which is stipulated in the $13,000,000 land deal negotiated in 1999:
Section VII
A. "The parties agree ... to develop a Royal Teton Ranch Bison Management Plan ... for the Easement Lands and other lands mutually agreed upon ... This plan would be intended to guide management actions consistent with the terms and purposes of this Easement, though it may be more protective of bison and their habitat. It should identify ways to manage the land to preserve, restore and enhance the bison that utilize the Property and their habitat."
Deed of Conservation Easement, Royal Teton Ranch - Devil's Slide Area August 30, 1999.
A decision on a 30 year lease must not bias negotiation between the U.S. Forest Service and Church Universal and Triumphant to uphold their duty to the public trust and put in place a Bison Management Plan for the Royal Teton Ranch that ensures a "safe haven for bison":
"Even though the IBMP identifies a maximum of 100 bison to be allowed to roam through the RTR, as acknowledged in the agreement, FWP and the Church recognized the possibility that a decision may be made to move to Step 3 of the IBMP or allow an additional number of bison in to the corridor during the course of the 30-year term of the agreement. This decision and any subsequent amendments to the agreement would only be made if experience shows that agency partners are able to consistently and effectively contain bison within the bison corridor and bison use areas and that bison are not adversely impacting public safety, private property or habitat conditions; and the proposed amendment is consistent with the terms of the existing conservation easement between the RTR and the Forest Service." (EA at 35)
As proposed, the material terms and conditions of this lease biases negotiation of a safe haven for bison by locking in management terms for 30 years that have yet to be negotiated and agreed to by the U.S. Forest Service who has land management authority for these very same lands now potentially subject to a 30 year contract.

The proposed action further threatens to restrict management adaptation in the IBMP, and inappropriately relies on approval by a private party

The 30 year term of the lease locks in future management decisions not yet made or committed to, nor subject to public input beyond the 15-year life of the IBMP. "This environmental analysis focuses on Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park's (FWP) part of the implementation of Step 2 of the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) which would allow for the controlled movement of a limited number of bison through Royal Teton Ranch (RTR) properties to graze on Forest Service lands north of Yellowstone National Park (YNP)." (EA at 7)

The material terms of the plan illegally restrict management authority and adaption in the IBMP. EA Exhibit F - Material Terms of the Plan (GRAZING RESTRICTION AND BISON ACCESS AGREEMENT at 22) 1. Bison attempting to leave the Yellowstone National Park shall be captured and tested at the Stephens Creek capture facility. In Steps One and Two of the Plan, only seronegative bison will be allowed to roam outside Yellowstone National Park. In Step Three of the Plan, untested bison may be allowed to roam outside Yellowstone National

The Record of Decision does not dictate capture of bison attempting to leave Yellowstone National Park: "In the north boundary area NPS would continue to monitor bison from approximately November 1 to April 30 within Yellowstone National Park and use hazing within the park to prevent bison movement north onto private and Gallatin National Forest lands in the Reese Creek area. " (ROD at 11-12)
Additionally, we are alarmed about the appropriateness and legality of subjecting the authority and decisions of the federal and state IBMP agencies to approval by a private party. "Any adaptive changes in the IBMP will be incorporated into the Agreement, subject to the
approval of the RTR that will not be unnecessarily withheld." (EA at 27) The question is not whether the private party unnecessarily withholds its approval, but the unprecedented nature of granting public decision making authority to a private party over a public trust bison herd.
The proposed action may reduce the ecological benefits of having wild bison on the landscape
MFWP did not analyze the ecological role of wild bison on the landscape or the ecological benefits of a natural free ranging herd including their role in restoring ecosystem function and health of grasslands where they have been extirpated. The proposed fencing, temporal use restrictions, and disruption of herd familial groups through capture, may negatively impact the beneficial role of wild bison on grasslands. We hereby incorporate by reference and in its entirety a compact disc submitted along with our comments covering the historical, cultural, biological, and keystone role of wild bison in their native range.

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