BOZEMAN—Montana Farm Bureau has expressed strong concern at the proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove agriculture from Refuge lands. In a letter to the federal agency, the state’s largest general agricultural organization pointed out that hard-working, family businesses raise food and fiber on a combination of private, federal and state land and some of those families have cooperative agreements on Refuge lands. 

MFBF President Cyndi Johnson explained that with 22 wildlife refuges in Montana, such as the C.M. Russell Wildlife Refuge, the impact of removing or restricting agricultural use will be significant and economically devastating.

Johnson pointed out that the Service in its own description supports partnering with farmers and ranchers to meet wildlife management objectives by farmers and ranchers grazing or growing grain, hay or other crops on the refuge.

“Montana Farm Bureau finds it very concerning that the Service’s proposals shift the paradigm to prohibiting agricultural practices and other activities,” noted Johnson. “Despite changes to grazing permits and general reductions since 1986, prescribed grazing is still important on this refuge, both to the wildlife who live there and the ranchers who graze their cattle there. By the Service’s own description ‘when prescriptive grazing is used with careful consideration of its compatibility with habitat and wildlife and other land management goals, it can be an effective tool.’”

In the very rural communities that surround this refuge and others like it, economic hardship to even a handful of farms and ranches will have severe impacts on the local economy. We believe the Service erred when it assumed in their proposal that this rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The Service should reevaluate this assumption,” Johnson said.

The Conrad grain farmer added that restricting the use of pesticides or genetically modified crops on the land shows an ignorance of the arduous pesticide registration and approval process.

“If the Service’s desire is to follow sound science, then there is no reason to ban the use of pesticides and modified plants,” said Johnson. She also asked why predator control would be limited. “Under the proposal, hunting of game species seemingly will continue to be allowed, so we struggle to understand why predator control would be limited, especially in areas where sensitive species reside on wildlife refuges.”

“In addition to having a direct and detrimental impact on individual ranchers, neighbors to the refuge, and the rural communities in which they exist, prohibiting these practices may in the end, be more harmful to the resource,” Johnson said. 

MFBF requests that the Service put the proposed changes on hold and re-engage with impacted stakeholders in the agriculture, conservation, wildlife, and rural communities. 

“We find this rule to be far-reaching, negatively impactful to individual ranchers and rural communities, and unnecessary for the conservation of wildlife on established refuges,” Johnson conclude