Tribes want quarantined Y’stone bison

By Matthew Brown
Billings, Montana (AP) 9-08

Five tribal groups from Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota are in the running to receive a small herd of bison spared from a capture and slaughter program at Yellowstone National Park.

The herd of 40 bison has been kept under quarantine for almost three years to ensure the animals don’t have the livestock disease brucellosis.

Most bison attempting to migrate outside the park are slaughtered to prevent the disease’s spread to cattle. The quarantined herd is part of an experimental program to keep some of those bison alive and restore the animals across parts of the West where they once flourished.

The program is jointly run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Montana officials will have final say over where the bison are relocated.


The five groups seeking the animals are Montana’s Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations, Sinte Gleska University on South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux Reservation, Wyoming’s Northern Arapaho Tribe and a Blackfeet Tribal member in Montana.

“There’s a lot of interest with all the tribes,” said Ervin Carlson, president of the InterTribal Bison Cooperative, which submitted a preliminary application for the bison program on behalf of the Northern Arapaho and Fort Peck tribes.

“They want to see them come out of there (Yellowstone) and not be slaughtered,” Carlson said.

Because Yellowstone’s bison are considered among the most genetically pure in the country, Carlson said tribes could use them to bolster the genetics in existing herds that have intermingled with cattle.

Ken MacDonald, a division administrator with Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the tribal groups have until the end of November to submit detailed plans to accept the bison.

A decision on where the bison will go will be made in January and the animals could be moved in February or March, MacDonald said.

The animals have been tested multiple times for brucellosis. The disease, which causes pregnant cows to abort their calves, can lay dormant for months without being detected.

“If any (bison) were to test positive between now and when they go out, the whole thing will be re-evaluated,” MacDonald said.

Infections discovered in two herds in Montana recently caused the state to lose its federal brucellosis-free status. Wyoming is on the brink of losing its status after a herd near Daniel was found to be infected.