Officials with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks are calling for groups of 50 bison to be moved to 32,000-acre Beartooth WMA south of Great Falls, the 5,800-acre Marias River WMA near Shelby and the 28,000-acre Spotted Dog WMA near Avon. Any bison sent to these wildlife areas would certified as being free of brucellosis, minimizing any theoretical impact the bison would have on any cattle in the area.
Keeping control of the bison is a dramatic change from last year, when 86 Yellowstone bison were shipped to Ted Turner-controlled land as a way to decrease the number of bison at Corwin Springs. There was a public outcry to the terms of the deal — Turner was allowed to keep three-quarters of any bison offspring in exchange for putting up the Yellowstone bison — and that outcry may have led state officials to look for a local, sustainable solution.
Of course, there’s a catch: the FWP envisions someday exposing these herds to hunters.
“As the state agency responsible for Montana’s wildlife, it is time that we take a serious look at this big game species’ management,” said FWP Director Joe Maurier in a press release. “Bison have been ignored as a big game species for 100 years. It’s simply time to consider realistic options for its management in Montana.”
Maurier said the goal would be to find appropriate areas that could support a huntable population of at least 50 bison. “I doubt that we’ll ever get to a truly ‘free-ranging’ bison herd,” he said, “but we want to see if we can find the right place where bison can roam behind a wildlife-friendly fence.”
Such a fence would allow passage for animals like elk and deer, but would be impassable for bison. Maurier said the EA would pay particular attention to the fencing requirements needed to keep bison from migrating on to local private land.
An additional 50 bison are now ready to be moved off the quarantine site north of Gardner and another 40-50 will be ready next year.