BILLINGS — A proposal to transfer wild bison from Yellowstone National Park to a Montana American Indian reservation ran into resistance on Monday from state livestock officials who said the animals pose a potential disease threat.
Leaders of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes are pressing state officials to support the transfer of 49 bison to the tribes’ northeastern Montana reservation. The request is backed by Yellowstone park administrators looking for alternatives to the current practice of shipping park bison to slaughter when they cross into Montana.
More than $500,000 has been spent on the Fort Peck reservation to build new fences and other facilities to keep the bison contained, said tribal Chairman Floyd Azure. The animals have been tested five times to guard against transmissions of brucellosis, said Fort Peck Fish and Game Department Director Robert Magnan.
“With the steps we’ve taken and the amount of money we’ve spent on this, we should be allowed to take bison,” Azure said. “We have numerous tribes and other organizations that want these bison and they are there to assist us.”
But Montana veterinarian Marty Zaluski told livestock board members that state law prohibits moving the bison until they are certified as disease-free. Zaluski said they would need to remain in quarantine inside or near Yellowstone for up to two-and-a-half years to be certain they’re not infected.
“The one sticking point that seems to be non-negotiable is the legal one,” Zaluski said. “No one has identified a legal way for us to do it.”
Many Yellowstone bison carry brucellosis, a disease feared by the livestock industry because it can cause cattle to abort their young. No transmissions from bison to cattle have been documented.
The 49 bison were captured last winter under an agreement between Montana and federal officials that restricts the animals’ seasonal migration into Montana.
Yellowstone administrators at the time proposed establishing a quarantine program at Fort Peck that would use the bison to create or augment herds elsewhere. A similar quarantine previously operated north of the park but was shut down when money ran out.
In the absence of such a program, thousands of park bison were shipped to slaughter over the past two decades.
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