Ranchers oppose Yellowstone bison relocation

Billings, Mont. (AP) _ Ranchers are voicing concern about plans
to relocate some Yellowstone Park bison to Indian reservations in
Montana and Wyoming.

The ranchers are worried about the animals’ history of carrying
brucellosis, a disease that causes domestic cows to miscarry.

“There isn’t anyone up here who wants it. It’s a cockamamie
idea, and it’s an experimental deal,” said John Brenden, a Scobey
rancher and legislator. “I don’t like anybody experimenting on
us.”

At issue is the relocation of more than 40 bison, kept under
quarantine for three years as part of an experiment to keep alive
at least some of the bison migrating from Yellowstone National
Park.

Bison that have left the park and tested positive for
brucellosis have been slaughtered in Montana to prevent the animals
from coming in contact with livestock.

However, the quarantined bison have tested negative for
brucellosis for three years, been allowed to reproduce in captivity
and are now ready for relocation. Three Indian reservations, the
Fort Belknap and Fort Peck reservations in Montana and Wind River
in Wyoming, have submitted proposals for acquiring the bison.

The animals are sought after because of bloodline purity, said
Robbie Magnum, who manages an existing herd of 117 bison on the
Fort Peck Reservation. Park bison breed within their species,
unlike their nonpark cousins that over the years have been
crossbred with cattle.

Magnum said the park bison would not only improve the quality of
the Fort Peck herd but also help tribal members return to a
traditional diet low in carbohydrates and rich in bison meat.
Diabetes is a serious problem on the reservation. Lowering
carbohydrate consumption is considered key to managing blood sugar
levels.

Representatives from state and federal government agencies will
meet this month to review bison management proposals submitted by
the reservations.

Ron Aasheim, spokesman for the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Department, said it will be months before any bison are
relocated.

The Fort Peck reservation’s borders stretch within a few miles
of Brenden’s home.

Brenden and other ranchers worry about the bison straying off
the reservation. Even if the animals tested negative for
brucellosis, they carry the stigma of originating from a diseased
population in Yellowstone National Park.

Ranchers say just having the bison near their operations could
make it hard to market beef from the area.

But the Montana Department of Livestock isn’t opposed to the
plan since the bison have tested negative for brucellosis for three
years.

“As far as the Department of Livestock is concerned, we’re not
going to let untested bison go anywhere,” said Steve Merritt, the
department’s spokesman. “This has been part of the plan for quite
some time. It’s part of the interagency bison management plan. It’s
part of the plan of the quarantine facility. We have a high degree
of confidence in the testing regime.”

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