A bison grazes in the grass at the National Bison Range recently.

My wife just found out and came to break the news. The buy-sell agreement has been signed. Final closing for our Wyoming family Hereford ranch is coming soon. Four of our family generations worked on and loved that land. Soon another will own it. Thank God the ranch will stay whole. It just won’t belong to us anymore. It’s hard to describe the feeling inside you.

I’ve been struggling all weekend to compose an op-ed expressing my thoughts and opinions on the complicated issues surrounding the American Prairie Reserve. Four drafts have been discarded so far. The fifth starts now.

How to express my tangled thoughts? How to convey sincere fairness and understanding? Involved are so many hard-working caring people (cattle ranchers, environmentalists, and city folk). Then there’s the land, private property rights, the livestock, livelihoods, wildlife, and future generations.

Finally there’s the bison — the American buffalo. Our recently declared National Mammal of the United States. American Prairie Reserve (APR) and the buffalo are hot issues in Montana this winter as I check the thermometer, which now reads minus 18!

APR’s mission ( is to create the largest nature reserve in the continental United States, a spectacular refuge for people and wildlife preserved forever as part of America’s heritage. APR has purchased several ranches on the open market in the north-central Montana prairie. They submitted a proposal to the Bureau of Land Management asking to adjust management practices on 18 more public-owned allotments for which they hold priority-grazing rights. Two previous APR grazing allotments are currently stocked with bison and have been successfully monitored and managed by APR personnel under the same practices for several years.

The BLM is now in the process of evaluating their recent proposal. Extensive public comments from all sides have been received and cataloged. More will come later. BLM is working diligently to arrive at scientifically accurate and fair determinations.

On Feb. 22, state Rep. Dan Bartel introduced House Joint Resolution 28 in Helena, urging BLM to deny the APR request. Bartel drafted the bill in partnership with two organizations: United Property Owners of Montana and the Save the Cowboy, Stop American Prairie Reserve Campaign. This resolution is improper and has numerous provable factual errors. It also attempts to interfere with the legitimate, ongoing BLM evaluations and is a slap in the face of private property rights.

I started this op-ed with a personal story about the sale of our family ranch. I want to convey that, along with over 50 years as a Montana veterinarian interacting with ranchers and their livestock, I have gained some understanding of what our rural ranching communities are experiencing. Changes are hard, but with change comes opportunity

The American buffalo is a favorite of mine. Not really all that pettable but extremely healthy, robust, intelligent, well adapted, and a proven survivor.

Montana’s cowboy artist, Charlie Russell, had a special fondness for wild lands, for native people, and especially for “nature’s cow”, which is how Charlie described the buffalo.

Russell’s ultimate masterpiece created in 1914, just 12 years before his death, is a scene at dawn’s first light depicting wild buffalo crossing the Missouri River. That painting is called, "When the Land Belonged to God". With Charlie’s help, a great many of us wide have come to better understand the Montana he fell in love with as a boy. That is why the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge was named in his honor.

HJ28 is a bad idea and shreds private property rights. We do not need it.

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Don “Doc” Woerner, DVM, lives near Laurel.


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