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Our View: Hopefully, two cultures can live together on Hi-Line

Bison were shipped into Fort Belknap Indian Reservation Thursday while prayers and songs were offered by Native Americans.

The return of bison to Montana plains means a lot to conservationists, wildlife supporters and Native Americans, and it was heartwarming to see Natives so enthused about the arrival of the bison. It is a part of their culture that was almost entirely erased after the arrival of Europeans more than 130 years ago on what today we call the Hi-Line.

It has been a long fight for Fort Belknap and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials who fought local farmers and ranchers on the issue.

Bison relocation was rejected by District Court, and it took the Montana Supreme Court to issue the decree in favor of the transfer.

But the joy felt by these groups is tempered by the apprehension on the part of area farmers and ranchers. They fear bison will escape, no matter what protections are offered by the tribe. The farmers fear their crops will be damaged by the escaped bison. They are also afraid that diseases such brucellosis will be spread by the animals, though FWP has certified that the bison at Fort Belknap are disease-free.

A lot is at stake here. The success of the Fort Belknap project will help determine how well the two cultures can live side-by-side on the Hi-Line.

It is easy to understand the desire of Native Americans to see bison on the plains once again. And it is easy to understand the desire of farmers and ranchers to see their crops and livestock protected.

Fort Belknap’s tribal government has agreed to take precautions against bison escaping and to reimburse farmers and ranchers if problems come about.

We hope this is a first step in a truce between the two sides and that bison can return to the Hi-Line without interfering with agriculture — the occupation that has been our mainstay for a century.


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