The House reversed itself Monday, giving final approval to a controversial bill allowing for the commercial sale of Yellowstone National Park bison.
Although the identical measure lost a House vote 53-44 on Saturday, more than a dozen members changed their minds to pass it 58-41.
The Senate has approved the bill. It now goes to Gov. Marc Racicot for his signature. He supported the bill during committee hearings.
The bill would let the state Livestock Department sell bison found wandering out of the park. Only those animals testing negative for brucellosis after a minimum 13-month quarantine would be sold.
Rep. William Rehbein, R-Lambert, the sponsor of House Bill 547, said the agency needed a new management option in the event of another large bison migration out of the park.
More than a thousand animals were shot or shipped to slaughter by livestock officials this past winter in rder to preserve Montana’s brucellosis-free status.
But Rehbein also acknowledged the Racicot administration wanted the authority to shore up its bargaining position in current negotiations with the U.S. Agriculture and Interior departments.
By the end of July, those agencies and the state are scheduled to deliver options for a permanent, long-term management plan.
The state has long sought a commitment from the National Park Service to take a more aggressive, hands-on approach to managing the size and health of the herd.
If Montana tells federal authorities that it plans on selling the bison, then Rehbein said the Park Service might compromise its hands-off approach to the animals, making the need for such sales moot.
This issue never arose until last Wednesday when the Livestock Department suggested tacking a bison sale amendment onto HB547. The bill was originally intended to give proceeds from the sale of seized meat to the Montana Food Bank Network.
Some lawmakers and environmental groups criticized the idea of putting wildlife - especially a national icon like the buffalo - on the auction block.
They also criticized the way the plan emerged - piggy-backed onto an existing bill, without any formal hearings or public comment.
“The governor decided to sell our wildlife, and he used the threat of withholding food bank money to get his way,” said Rep. Bob Raney, D-Livingston. “What a hero.”
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