Rob and Janae’ Galanis recently bought 711 acres on the Horse Butte Peninsula of Hebgen Lake just west of Yellowstone National Park. The land is a historical migration corridor for bison, and the new property owners would like to keep it that way by managing the property as a wildlife preserve.
The Galanises, who own a part-time home on the opposite side of Hebgen Lake, are making a stand on Horse Butte Peninsula. They are adamantly opposed to the current bison management policy, and they openly state they will consider any incursion by state or federal agencies to manage bison on their property as trespassing.
On August 16, 2007 the Galanises sent a letter to the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) in which they stated, “The current policy of hazing is inhumane, senseless, a waste of taxpayer dollars, and an embarrassment to the state of Montana. We trust you will respect our private property rights.” The DOL recently responded with a letter maintaining their right to manage bison on private property.
Rob Galanis says he is not looking to pick a fight, but with winter on its way and neither side budging, such a confrontation could be inevitable.
“Our position is unchanged,” Galanis says of the DOL’s response. “There are no cattle, so I don’t see any need for hazing to go on there.”
Galanis says he and his wife bought the property to save it from the type of increasing development going on throughout the Madison Valley. They have restored a wetlands on the property and plan to develop about five homesites. Galanis agrees the herd should be controlled, but he says other strategies such as a hunt would be more effective and humane than the government’s current policy of controlling the spread of the disease brucellosis from bison to cattle by hazing and slaughter bison that wander outside the park.
This past July the U.S. Department of Agriculture discovered the disease in a herd of cattle on Jim and Sandy Morgan’s ranch near the Bridger Mountains. The entire herd—589 head of cattle—were sent to slaughter. If another herd of cattle test positive for the disease Montana’s brucellosis status will be downgraded to a “Brucellosis Class A” state, which would be a hit to the state’s ranching economy.
Although bison carry the disease, there is no evidence of bison ever transmitting it to cattle. Brucellosis is a zoonotic disease and a host of mammals—from elk and wolves to squirrels and domestic animals—can also carry brucellosis. The nature of the disease would make the work of carrying out the goal of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on eradicating brucellosis difficult and costly to say the least. Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are currently in discussion over the MOU.
As Montana officials also float the idea of a establishing a separate zone for cattle around the park, two major ranching associations in the state are split on the idea. Many environmental and wildlife organizations have also been working to form alternative plans to the current policies. The current brucellosis containment policies are extremely costly to taxpayers, and some say it is senseless to spend the money singling out bison when elk and other animals are just as likely to transfer the disease to cattle. Some groups argue shifting the focus to protecting livestock would be cheaper and more effective.
The Galanises hope removing cattle from their property will also remove any need for the DOL to enter to haze bison. Rob Galanis says the DOL would need to prove an animal was diseased by testing it before hazing, and both actions would require illegally entering his property.
“Last I recall, we still live in the United States and there are certain private property rights we have,” Galanis states. “How do they know which animal would be diseased? If they can’t make that determination, then they probably don’t have the right to be there.”
The DOL tried to arrange a meeting with the Gallanises, but the Yellowstone Ranch Preserve property owners say they do not intend to meet at this point.