National Wildlife Refuge Responds to Emergency

Cattle grazing on Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana.
Cattle grazing on Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana.

In late July, the Lodgepole Complex Fire in northeastern Montana grew rapidly, with four separate fires joining to burn more than 270,000 acres in a matter of days. The fires devastated lands ranchers use for grazing their cattle. Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge quickly responded to requests for assistance by temporarily opening refuge lands for cattle grazing.

Grazing is an important habitat management tool that refuge staff use to maintain prime habitat for all kinds of wildlife. Currently, 65 permittees graze cattle on two-thirds of the 1.1-million-acre refuge. One-third of the refuge lands are maintained in a “rested” condition meaning these lands have not been grazed for anywhere from two to ten years.

Ranchers who are taking advantage of this assistance will be required to pay established grazing fees as current permittees do. Cattle will be moved off the refuge no later than November 1, which will allow ample time to meet ranchers’ needs.

When the request came from local ranchers and county officials, Refuge Manager Paul Santavy and staff quickly assessed the situation for any potential short or long term impacts and for how could they help the local community. Paul and staff quickly responded by developing a CMR Grazing Relief and temporarily deferring the paperwork to move displaced cattle to areas where they could forage.

This effort has not gone unnoticed by the community. One local rancher was quoted in the Billing Gazette saying: “They’re our heroes today,” Dean Rogge said of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. “We’re just thankful the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came to our aid. And everyone else, too. Everyone across the nation and the support from across the state. It’s overwhelming. Garfield County just wants to give a big thank you to everyone who is supporting us.”

Secretary Ryan Zinke also sent a note to all DOI employees complimenting the refuge staff for their action. “I applaud the quick work and flexibility of the team at CMR for getting this done for the community in a compliant manner. Their example is an example to all of us.”

The National Wildlife Refuge Association thanks refuge staff for its quick work in responding to the ranchers’ needs in a way that benefits both the community and the refuge and its wildlife and habitat.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2017/08/national-wildlife-refuge-responds-to-emergency/

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