Turner is offering to keep the 74 bison, currently quarantined because of concerns over brucellosis, for five years on his dime at his Montana ranch. In exchange, he wants to keep 90 percent of the offspring as payment. Presumably these offspring would become part of his breeding operation, which supplies bison meat commercially nationwide.
Activists, Indian tribal leaders and some federal officials say the deal, brokered by Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, wrongly commercializes Yellowstone National Park bison. The better solution is to place the bison on tribal land or another place where conservation, not commercialization, is the goal. And the conservationists have the law on their side: the enabling 2006 legislation clearly states “the bison will remain wild and noncommercial.” Montana officials say that clause should be ignored in the face of need for immediate action, but officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the folks managing the quarantine — say there’s no rush. Eighty more bison are slated to enter quarantine by the end of March.
The issue should come to a head after Jan. 12, when public comment on the plan ends and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Joe Maurie is expected to decide where the bison end up.
The bison have been quarantined since 2006, under fears they could spread brucellosis to grazing cattle outside the Yellowstone National Park boundaries. Brucellosis is a disease that cause pregnant cattle to spontaneously abort their offspring. There’s never been a documented case of cattle receiving brucellosis from a bison; the more likely brucellosis carriers are elk.
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