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Wind River Reservation Puts out the Welcome Sign for Bison

PHOTO: Bison that need to be transferred. Photo credit: Garrit Voggesser
PHOTO: Bison that need to be transferred. Photo credit: Garrit Voggesser
August 20, 2012

LANDER, Wyo. - A decision by federal agencies is looming in the matter of 160 Yellowstone bison that have been staying at one of Ted Turner's ranches in Montana. The animals need a new home, and a list of ideal locations is due by the end of this month. In March, 61 of the bison went to Fort Peck, and the Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming are interested in taking some of those remaining.

Shoshone tribal member and wildlife scientist Jason Baldes says the reservation welcomes the bison for cultural and spiritual connections, as well for what they represent for better health on the reservation.

"They were our original food source, so our diets were adapted for thousands of years with this animal, and since its decimation, buffalo being removed from the diet has had detrimental effects."

Baldes says there are some regulatory hoops to get through, as well as transportation and herd management details, but he hopes the animals could be in place by the end of the year.

Other locations being considered for the animals include federal lands, such as refuges, but area ranchers have raised concerns about possible damage to their lands and risks to their animals' health if they are exposed to the bison.

Garrit Voggesser, the tribal partnership director for the National Wildlife Federation, says the reservation looks like the best bet.

"Having looked at all the other places the the agencies have to look at, the only near-term and best solution is Wind River because they have the landscape, and they want the bison."

He adds that the tribes will need education and assistance for infrastructure and for monitoring the herd.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY