Spared from slaughter, bison will move to Wyoming

by Mathew Brown
Billing, Montana (AP) 4-09

A small herd of bison from Yellowstone National Park will be moved to Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation during April, part of a fledgeling effort to spare some of the animals from a government-sponsored slaughter program.

The 41 bison are now in a quarantine facility in Corwin Springs, Mont., just north of the park. They are what’s left of a group of 100 bison spared in 2005 and 2006 from a slaughter program meant to guard against transmissions of the disease brucellosis to domestic livestock.

Carried by many of the park’s bison, brucellosis causes pregnant animals to abort their young. To prevent its spread, 1,600 bison attempting to migrate outside the park were killed in 2008. But there have been no recorded bison-to-cattle transmissions in the wild.

A second herd of bison held in Corwin Springs could be moved onto different reservations over the next two years. Representatives of the Fort Belknap and Fort Peck tribes have submitted proposals to take the animals.


The 41 bison headed to Wind River – home of the Northern Arapahoe Tribe – will be kept for at least a year inside a 1,000-acre enclosure on the boundary of the reservation, said Ken MacDonald with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.

Meanwhile, tribal officials will work to fence off an additional 30,000 acres for the bison to roam permanently.

“The goal is to get the bison out by the first of April,” MacDonald said. “These are probably the most tested animals, wild or domestic, in the country.”

A state legislative committee during late March tabled a bill, HB 337, that would have blocked the relocation program.

The Senate approved a similar bill during February on a 31-19 vote. Its sponsor, Republican Sen. Jon Brenden of Scobey, said that moving bison outside Yellowstone could endanger cattle on ranches surrounding the reservations.

In addition to concerns over brucellosis, Brenden has said ranchers are worried about the bison competing with cattle for rangeland.

“The history of the Fort Belknap and Fort Peck reservations is they haven’t been able to keep buffalo on the land that they own,” he said.

Jim Stone is executive director of the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, which partnered with the Fort Peck Reservation on its proposal to take bison. He called Brenden’s worries over brucellosis a red herring, since some of the quarantined bison have been tested for the disease a dozen times. Access to grass for cattle is the real flash point, Stone said.

“The non-tribal people leasing tribal land, they’re going to lose that land, that’s some of the issue,” he said. “But it’s the tribes doing with their land what they want to do.”