Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The Hill County government and a concerned local citizen are taking a proactive look at the procedures for grazing cattle on Beaver Creek Park in the fall and early winter. Lou Hagener met with the Hill County Commission Wednesday to discuss ways the county could try to keep cattle off Montana Highway 234, commonly known as Beaver Creek Road, in the park without resorting to fencing off the highway. “It basically comes down to, we have to do something,” said Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette. The commissioners said the Montana Department of Transportation has notified them that the rate of collisions between vehicles and animals on the park which the county leases out for grazing cattle after Labor Day through early winter is much higher than the average in the state. MDT listed 13 car-animal crashes on the highway in the last four years. Commission Chair Mike Wendland told Hagener that MDT has not mandated any actions yet, fencing the highway or otherwise. He said something needs to be done to show the department that the county is working on the issue. “They want to see if we’re doing anything, or they will,” he said, adding that MDT seems receptive to listening to proposals by the county. “They gave us the summer to work on it,” Bessette said. The issue was a hot topic at the beginning of the decade, when the state Department of Transportation was in the planning stages of taking over maintenance of the highway, including rebuilding it. Montana law requires that state highways are fenced. Prior to 2001, the county was responsible for care of the highway. Most comments from the public during the 2000 discussions opposed the fencing project. In 2001 the Montana Legislature approved a waiver allowing MDT to take over the maintenance of the highway without fencing it off. Wednesday Hagener, who was on the advisory committee examining the issue of fencing the highway while it was being discussed, said people need to realize that the legislative waiver does not mean the issue can now be ignored. “We went the distance and changed the law,” he said. “If people think we dodged the bullet and are no longer responsible, we landed in the wrong place.” Hagener suggested two possibilities to reduce the number of cattle on the park. One is to evaluate the springs that were developed in an effort to draw the cattle off of the road. Springs have been developed since the discussion first arose in an effort to mitigate the problem of cattle on the highway. Hagener said there may be better locations than the ones developed to attract cattle away from traffic on the road, and offered to look into evaluating that situation. He also suggested installing cross-fencing at some locations in the park, with cattle guards to allow traffic to pass The fence. That would allow limiting the areas cattle would be at in the park at different parts of the season, and both make it easier to warn drivers where the cattle are likely to be and reduce the number of miles where the cattle could cause a problem, he said. The commissioners said they were interested in looking into both solutions, and agreed to have Hagener work with the County Park Board, its grazing subcommittee and livestock owners who use the park grazing to develop suggestions. The group agreed to invite MDT officials to attend a Park Board meeting later in the summer to hear proposals that come out of the evaluations.