BILLINGS — A new home is being sought for a group of roughly 135 bison that came through an experimental program to see if animals from Yellowstone National Park can be used to establish herds in Montana or elsewhere.
After earlier attempts to move them ran into opposition, more than 80 bison captured from the park and their offspring have been held since 2010 on a ranch near Bozeman owned by philanthropist Ted Turner.
Under a deal hatched by former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Turner cared for the animals and gets to keep 75 percent of the offspring. That’s expected to be more than 150 bison after spring calving.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wants to pass the remaining animals over to public agencies or organizations interested in starting “conservation herds.”
Yellowstone bison are highly prized for their genetic purity.
Federal animal health officials tested the bison proposed for transfer twice annually since the first were captured in 2005 to make sure they don’t have brucellosis. That’s a disease that can cause pregnant animals to prematurely abort and is carried by about half of Yellowstone’s bison.
Officials say proposals to take the bison on Turner’s ranch are due by April 30. They could be moved by November when the state’s agreement with Turner expires.
Wildlife officials said interested parties will have to show how they intend to manage the bison, including whether hunting will be allowed and future population size objectives.
Another group of bison that went through the disease testing program were transferred to the Montana’s Fort Peck and Fort Belknap tribes in 2012.
The move came over intense opposition from livestock groups and some state lawmakers, who continue to worry about brucellosis and the potential for bison to compete with livestock and knock down fencing.
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