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MT Gov. Temporarily Saves 40 Yellowstone Bison, But What Next?

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has temporarily blocked 40 Yellowstone bison from being slaughtered. (Jimmie/Flickr)
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has temporarily blocked 40 Yellowstone bison from being slaughtered. (Jimmie/Flickr)
January 30, 2017

HELENA, Mont. – Gov. Steve Bullock has temporarily banned the slaughter of Yellowstone bison in Montana, saving 40 bison held in the park right now.

But their fate and the fate of many other bison still remains unclear.

Last January, the National Park Service released a draft plan for a bison quarantine and relocation program – already established on the Fort Peck Reservation in northeast Montana – as a way to resettle bison that would otherwise be killed.

But federal agency never made a decision.

Garrit Voggesser, director for tribal partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation, says his and other conservation groups say the Fort Peck plan is still on the table, if the Park Service wants to reconsider it.

"It's somewhat surprising to see the governor act, but we're pleased that he did,” Voggesser states. “Long-term, though, it doesn't offer a full solution for Yellowstone bison and their fate.

“The state has basically said that they wanted to kill between 900 and 1,300 buffalo to reduce the population this year."

The captured bison have tested negative for brucellosis, a bacterial disease livestock managers fear could be spread to cattle.

However, Voggesser says there are no documented cases of transmission from bison to cattle, and that elk are primarily responsible for disease transfer.

A representative for the governor says the state is hoping to find a solution for the captured bison this week.

The Park Service and Montana reached an agreement in the 1990s to maintain a bison population of 3,500 in Yellowstone, and the current count is about 5,500.

Since 2012, tribes of the Fork Peck Reservation and Fort Belknap area have relocated about 300 bison to save them from slaughter.

Robert Magnan, director of Fort Peck Tribes Fish and Game, says the Yellowstone bison are different from any other bison on the continent.

"The buffalo in Yellowstone National Park are the last, very few of what we have left of the genetically pure animals,” he points out. “The rest of the other buffalo have traces of cattle gene in them. And that's what makes these animals so unique."

According to a 2015 Defenders of Wildlife poll, 78 percent of Montanans support restoring wild bison populations on tribal lands.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT