Billings, Mont. (AP) — State and federal officials have
recommended relocating a small herd of bison from Yellowstone
National Park to a Wyoming Indian reservation, part of a bid to
restore a species that once numbered in the tens of millions.
The 41 animals are now being held in a federal disease
quarantine compound in Montana. If Friday’s recommendation is
adopted by the state’s wildlife agency, they could be moved to the
Wind River Reservation by early April.
Several more batches of bison now under quarantine could be
relocated over the next three winters.
Yellowstone contains the largest and most genetically pure bison
in the country following intensive hunting that drove the animals
to near-extinction in the late 1800s.
Because the park’s bison have a high rate of the disease
brucellosis, most bison attempting to leave Yellowstone in recent
decades have been shot or slaughtered _ more than 1,601 last year
The bison to be relocated were captured in 2005 and 2006. Each
has tested negative for exposure to the disease at least nine
times. Brucellosis can infect cattle, elk, bison and other animals,
causing premature abortions.
Human cases are rare.
“The last thing we want to do is create another endemically
infected herd,” said veterinarian Jack Rhyan with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, which runs the quarantine compound in
Corwin Springs in cooperation with Montana Fish, Wildlife and
About half of Yellowstone bison test positive for the disease.
However, the seven known transmissions to cattle in the last
several years were all tentatively traced to elk. Elk are more
numerous and not subject to the same tight restrictions as
Yet fears a latent infection could pop up in relocated bison has
stirred opposition from cattle ranchers. Ranchers and farmers also
say the bison would knock over fences and tear up crop- and
“They get out destroying crops and neighbors’ crops and what
have you,” said John Brenden, a state legislator and farmer in
Brenden, a Republican, is drafting a bill to block the bison
from being moved out of the quarantine. It has not yet been
introduced. He added that he would not want the animals moved to
Wyoming State Veterinarian Walter Cook said his biggest worry
was not bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle, but rather
disease-free bison becoming infected by elk. That would leave any
future Wind River herd in the same quandary as Yellowstone.
He said Wyoming livestock officials planned to meet with tribal
leaders in coming weeks to discuss how they would manage the
The Fort Belknap and Fort Peck reservations also have submitted
proposals to receive bison from Corwin Springs. Jim Stone with the
Intertribal Bison Cooperative said those reservations would hope to
receive bison over the next two to three years.
Bison, often called buffalo, once ranged from Mexico to Canada.
There are an estimated 20,000-25,000 wild bison remaining in North
America _ a figure that has changed little since the 1930s, said
Keith Aune, a bison biologist with the Wildlife Conservation
Society in Bozeman.
Yellowstone’s 3,000 animals make up one of only three herds
large enough to be considered biologically sustainable, he said,
making it ideal to serve as a “source herd” that could be used to
seed new herds across the continent.
“There’s a lot of movement going on to find ways to restore
bison not by the millions, but to find some sites that are
appropriate where the species would be allowed to exist,” he
Friday’s recommendation came during a meeting in Bozeman with
representatives of agencies including Montana Fish, Wildlife and
Parks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal Bureau of
Land Management and the Department of Agriculture.
State veterinarian Marty Zaluski declined to join in the
recommendation, saying he did not want to signal any desire to ship
the bison to Wyoming instead of keeping them in Montana.
The selection of the Wind River Reservation of the Northern
Arapahoe Tribe was contingent on a site visit and more details from
the tribe on how it would manage the animals.
If no suitable site for the quarantined bison is found, they
could be returned to Yellowstone National Park or slaughtered.