On January 21st, 2021, the Board of Adjustment held a hearing remotely via Zoom to consider a joint motion filed in the matter of American Prairie Reserve’s Petition for Variance from Phillips Conservation District Ordinance 2016-1.
Petitioner American Prairie Reserve, Phillips Conservation District, and Intervenors South Phillips County Co-operative State Grazing District and Phillips County Livestock Association jointly requested that the Board approve their settlement agreement and concluded the proceeding by issuing a variance order pursuant to Montana Code Annotated § 76-15-725 and Section 13 of Phillips Conservation District Ordinance 2016-1.
Under the settlement agreement, APR agreed to randomly test 325 bison over a five year period and 150 over the following five years. All tested animals will be individually tagged for identification purposes. Any escaped bison will also be tested and IDed.
Also under the agreement, the three parties agreed to annual meetings to provide updates on American Prairie Reserve operations, including sharing the American Prairie Reserve’s disease identification and management plan and/or any updates to that plan; all disease testing results from that year; current bison ear tag and/or other identification data; any fence maintenance or construction on American Prairie Reserve property; and any imports or exports of bison to or from the American Prairie Reserve’s herd.
The Board of Adjustment hearing can be viewed at Board of Adjustment meeting — Montana DNRC (mt.gov).
The final order of the settlement agreement can be viewed by clicking 2021-01-21_Final Order Board of Adjustments.
Phillips Conservation District recognizes that they didn’t get full compliance with the ordinance, as they were hoping to see APR’s bison herd fully tested over a period of time, but they realize a settlement is a compromise for all parties involved. The Conservation District wants to honor the will of the voters’ expectations and desire to regulate bison testing/ID in passing the ordinance, while recognizing complete compliance with the ordinance presents legal difficulties.
On June 7, 2016 the majority of qualified electors in Phillips Conservation District (PCD) cast votes for the approval of a bison grazing ordinance, number 2016-1, with 1168 in favor and 315 against the ordinance, resulting in 79% voter approval.
In October 2016, American Prairie Reserve (APR) requested a variance from the ordinance. Specifically APR requested a variance from Sections 7(1)(b) and 7(1)(e), citing great practical difficulties and unnecessary hardship as a reason for the request.
Section 7(1)(b) requires: “All bison/buffalo must be tested and certified, by a state veterinarian to be disease free.” Section 7(1)(e) requires “bison/buffalo must be branded, tattooed, tagged or otherwise identified to track its health status.”
As a result of the APR’s variance request, a DNRC appointed Board of Adjustment was created to hear the variance request. The hearing is set for November 12, 2019 at the Phillips County Courthouse.
The Board of Adjustment set procedural rules and deadlines at its meeting on March 29, 2019 in Fort Benton, Montana. The first deadline requires any qualified elector residing in Phillips County who seeks to intervene in the variance proceeding to file a Petition to Intervene by May 24, 2019. If the Board grants approval to the Petition to Intervene, the Intervenor is then allowed to participate in all aspects of the legal proceeding and is required to follow all rules and procedures adopted by the Board in the conduct of the pre-hearing discovery and the hearing proceeding.
It is important that the Intervenor be able to present evidence or witnesses that will provide factual information regarding the issues of the case that will assist the Board in reaching a decision on the issues presented and not just express their personal opinion on the matter. Petition for Intervention forms, and other legal forms are being drafted and can be obtained at http://dnrc.mt.gov/public-interest/public-noticesor by calling District Administrator Jenifer Anderson at (406)654-1334.