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Wanted: A Home for Wild Buffalo

October 6, 2011

HELENA, Mont. - Wanted: a home for wild buffalo to roam.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is accepting public input on placements for bison which have been quarantined by the state.

The wild animals are rounded up as calves and tested over time to see if they carry diseases harmful to cattle. Most of those which survive being penned - and many don't - are cleared, says Dan Brister, director of the Buffalo Field Campaign, but they can't be released back into the wild because they become domesticated. His group takes issue with the state for capturing and confining the animals in the first place, without having any plans for where they would ultimately end up.

"They need to look at the promises they have made all along, and keep to those promises. Tribal and public lands should be where these bison go."

Proposed locations include two wildlife management areas, tribal lands on the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations, and two private ranches. Last year, FWP placed some of the animals on a Turner Enterprises Incorporated ranch, allowing the company to keep any calves born. Brister says any private ranch housing animals should be compensated with cash - not wild bison, which technically are public property.

Brister's group has called for an end to the quarantine program, which state officials say still is needed to protect domestic cattle. Brister sees more problems on the horizon at the holding pens.

"I'm really worried about those pens right outside of Gardiner, interfering with the natural migration of the Yellowstone buffalo. This whole thing should be brought to a halt."

The Buffalo Field Campaign advocates allowing wild bison to migrate through their natural range.

Comments are being accepted at the FWP regional meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. today in the Marias River Electric Cooperative meeting room in Shelby. Comments also are being accepted in writing through Oct. 19. The FWP documents are online at mt.gov.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT