Montana to give bison from Yellowstone to tribes instead of zoos

Thu Oct 16, 2014 8:29pm EDT
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By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) - An Indian reservation in Montana will receive 145 bison from Yellowstone National Park that were quarantined to create a herd free of a disease that threatens ranchers' cattle, according to a government plan approved on Thursday.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission agreed unanimously to give the bison to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to further the conservation of the country's last herd of wild, purebred buffalo.

The tribe was chosen instead of a proposal to distribute the iconic, hump-shouldered creatures to six organizations across five states, including New York's Bronx and Queens zoos.

"It would be a great celebration at Fort Peck to make this happen," said Becky Dockter, chief legal counsel for Montana's wildlife agency.

The bison, now in confinement at a Montana ranch owned by media mogul Ted Turner, were part of a government experiment that quarantined the animals to produce a band free of the cattle disease brucellosis, which is carried by roughly half of Yellowstone's buffalo.

The success of the experiment, documented in a scientific study issued earlier this year, gave Montana assurance that relocating the bison would not pose a risk of transmitting brucellosis to commercial livestock. The ailment can cause cows to miscarry.

Commissioners adopted the revised plan after calls by buffalo advocates not to send the animals out of state when Indian lands in Montana were suitable and where tribal biologists have already proven they can manage bison, said Andrea Jones, spokeswoman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

In 2012, the Fort Peck tribes saw the historic return of 63 Yellowstone buffalo to their reservation under a plan crafted by state, federal and tribal bison managers.   Continued...

A car is stopped by a herd of bison crossing the highway in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, June 8, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart