The fate of 40 bison wanted by the Fort Peck Indian Reservation may be decided today.
Earlier this month, we reported that Montana Governor Steve Bullock had suspended the slaughter of Yellowstone National Park bison after learning that 40 bison previously scheduled to ship to Fort Peck last year were still detained in the Stephens Creek Bison Capture Facility and in danger of being slaughtered. We also reported that state and federal officials were hoping for a quick resolution to the problem, since Stephens Creek isn’t set up as a dedicated quarantine.
Under the Interagency Bison Management Plan, no bison may be shipped out of Yellowstone National Park if they’re carrying brucellosis; the only exception is if they’re being shipped to a designated slaughter facility. The Fort Peck Reservation hoped to host 40 bison in quarantine to eventually clear them of the disease and subsequently establish more wild herds across the country.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, a solution is “hopefully” forthcoming, per Ronja Abel, a Bullock spokeswoman. From the Chronicle:
Floyd Azure, the chairman of the Fort Peck Tribes, said he thought they would have the bison by now, but he is glad Bullock has prevented the bison from being slaughtered.
“At least we know they’re not going to be destroyed,” Azure said. “Hopefully we’ll get them.”
A management plan calls for a population of roughly 3,000 bison in the Yellowstone area, and about 5,500 live there now. Officials try to reduce their number through hunting and slaughter, and they want to kill as many as 1,300 bison this year.
Some see quarantine as a way to reduce the number of bison slaughtered each year and to establish more wild herds throughout the country. During their normal capture-for-slaughter operation in 2016, park officials set aside a number of bison to be used for the proposed quarantine at Fort Peck.
But Montana livestock officials raised concern that sending bison to Fort Peck would violate state law that requires any wild bison transported through the state to be certified brucellosis free, which is determined through a set of federal protocols. Because of that, the National Parks Service held off on issuing a final decision on the program.
Meanwhile, the bison stayed in the trap, subjected to regular testing for brucellosis. Ones that tested positive were removed. The 40 that are still there have consistently tested negative for the disease.
The park has captured about 200 bison for slaughter this winter and was ready to begin shipping them and the 40 slated for Fort Peck when Bullock sent the letter blocking their transport. One possible solution the Bullock administration floated was to send the bison to U.S. Department of Agriculture corrals near Corwin Springs, where federal veterinarians have done research on wild bison in the past.
Their most recent project was on a birth control drug called GonaCon. USDA officials weren’t immediately able to provide details on the number of bison currently at the Corwin Springs facility.
Azure said the tribal government expected to get bison shortly after the November election, but that didn’t happen. He said he thought Bullock could have made a decision to allow bison to be transported to Fort Peck without brucellosis free certification, but he’s glad something has been done.
“I think he might be trying to mend fences,” Azure said.
The tribe has already built special corrals for the bison, according to the Chronicle, and hopes to send disease-free bison across the nation. Per Azure, “we want them to be out there just like they used to be.”