Royal Teton ranch sells off cattle; bison boundaries to be expanded?

[Wednesday April 16, 2008] The owners of the Royal Teton Ranch north of Yellowstone National Park have sold off their cattle in anticipation of the sale of grazing rights to more than 7,000 acres, clearing the way for an expansion of the area bison can roam outside the boundaries of the Park without the threat of slaughter.

The pending sale, which should be announced today, not only frees up the 7,000 acres controlled by the Church Universal and Triumphant, it also allows the land to serve as a gateway to additional bison grazing land in Gallatin National Forest. The purchase of grazing rights won’t be cheap — estimates go as high as $3 million — but given the uproar in recent months over the slaughter of Yellowstone bison leaving the Park, many consider it to be a bargain. The details of the deal should be announced at a press conference today.

The purchase is merely one step in the long road toward a comprehensive bison-management plan, though critics say the current proposal is too limited in scope. Bison will be tested before they are allowed outside the Park to Royal Teton Ranch land, and only 25 that are free of brucellosis will be allowed in. If this program works, the number could be increased to 100. Any more than that would be slaughtered.

Over 1,600 bison — more than a third of the entire Yellowstone National Park bison population — were slaughtered this winter and spring when they left the boundaries of the Park in search of better grazing. The fear is that bison, which are carriers of the brucellosis virus, will infect Montana’s cattle with the disease, although there’s been no established case where this happened. Brucellosis is a nasty disease that causes cows to spontaneously abort fetuses, and Montana cattlemen fear they will lose their brucellosis-free status, forcing them to test livestock shipped outside the state.

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