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100 Candles Today for MT National Bison Range

May 23, 2008

Moiese, MT – It's a bison birthday, marking 100 years of hard work and stewardship. A century ago, Montana's National Bison Range was created by Congress when the bison herds that once numbered in the millions had dwindled to less than 100 animals in the wild. It was a Montana Salish Indian who first pushed for establishing a safe place to preserve the species, an animal considered sacred by Native Americans.

This year, the new calves expected this month should bring the herd to close to 400 animals. Pat Jamieson, the range's outdoor recreation planner, says despite recent conflicts over whether tribes should manage the range, the quality of the animals has been preserved.

"While we have never had large numbers of bison since the great herds roamed, genetic testing on many of the public herds has shown that we do have some of the best genetic diversity out there right now."

To Jamieson, it is evident that Montanans who live near the wildlife refuge treasure the land as well as the animals.

"I've worked at national parks where signs get shot up and picnic tables get carved on, and we just don’t see that here at this park."

It's been more than a year since tribal employees were locked out of their jobs at the range in a disagreement over its management, although tribal leaders attend today's celebration. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes believe they should manage the bison, or at least share responsibilities at the range. As part of the hundredth birthday celebration, entrance to the National Bison Range is free today.

Deborah Smith/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - MT