Plan to move quarantined bison to Wyoming stalls

By Matthew Brown
Billings, Montana (AP) 6-09

A high-profile initiative to spare a small number of Yellowstone bison from slaughter has been delayed until at least this fall, after a Wyoming Indian reservation reversed its plan to take the animals.

Because about half of Yellowstone National Park’s bison test positive for the livestock disease brucellosis, most of those that roam outside the park are captured and slaughtered. More than 1,600 were killed in 2008.

In recent years the government started sparing a small number of animals without the disease and putting them in a quarantine just outside the park. The plan is to use the bison to re-establish herds beyond Yellowstone.

The first 48 bison were supposed to move in May.

However, members of the Northern Arapaho recently told officials they don’t want the animals on 30,000 acres of tribe-owned ranchland that had been slated to receive the bison. They reportedly said it would put the animals too close to cattle.

The tribe is on the Wind River Reservation, about 100 miles southeast of Yellowstone in central Wyoming.

Because seven of the female bison just calved, it will be six months until they’re moved, said Jack Rhyan, a U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian involved with the program.


“We’re hoping to keep them for the summer and fall and then get rid of them” by placing them on public or tribal land, Rhyan said. “The final default is that we’d have to go to slaughter. That’s our last option.”

Yellowstone National Park is home to the nation’s most highly prized bison, about 3,000 genetically pure animals. Its two herds comprise one of the largest concentrations of bison in North America, but are still a meager remnant of the millions that once roamed the continent.

Stockgrowers groups and an ally in the Montana Legislature, Republican Sen. Jon Brendan of Scobey, don’t want the bison moved. They say the multiple brucellosis tests already done on the animals could have failed to pick up a latent infection. And they don’t want bison competing with cattle for grass.

Northern Arapaho officials did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Kristine Reed is with the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, which helped draft the tribe’s request to take the bison. She said it was possible the Northern Arapaho could revive their bid.

“Bison are native to their landscape. They’ve been absent from their landscape for 100 years. They didn’t want it for economic reasons. They wanted to do it for spiritual reasons,” Reed said.

But she added that economic factors also come into play. “On many reservations, the majority of the economics is ranching and farming. Politically, that’s where a lot of those issues are.”

The Fort Belknap and Fort Peck reservations had shown earlier interest in the animals, but will have to submit new proposals before they could get the animals, Rhyan said.

Keith Aune, an adviser to the bison relocation program and biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said he expects a suitable site will be found, if not immediately.

“It would be nice if it worked out better, but we anticipated there would be challenges,” he said.

No public land agencies have submitted bids to receive the animals.

If the first group of bison is successfully moved in late fall, Rhyan said a second group of 29 animals could move in the winter. That would leave 40 animals captured last year still in the quarantine.

After those are moved, the program, a partnership between the Agriculture Department and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, is slated to end. It’s now costing roughly $200,000 a year, Rhyan said.