A bill that would let Yellowstone bison be shipped to a quarantine facility at the Fort Peck Reservation has been tabled.
Earlier this week, we reported that Montana Representative Willis Curdy (D-Missoula) had introduced a bill to the House Agriculture Committee. House Bill 419 would have stripped a requirement that bison be deemed brucellosis-free before being shipped out of Yellowstone National Park.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the Agriculture committee voted 13-10 to table the bill:
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Willis Curdy, D-Missoula, said the bill would resolve this conflict and give the quarantine program a chance to help reduce the Yellowstone bison population along with hunting and slaughter. He said the way bison are treated now gives Montana “a black eye” and that his bill is “long overdue.”
“We need to move this issue ahead one way or the other,” Curdy said.
But Rep. Dale Mortensen, R-Billings, called the bill “dangerous” because it could allow bison that carry brucellosis to be taken to other parts of the state.
“The spread of brucellosis to Montana’s livestock industry is going to take down the number one industry in the state and this is totally unacceptable,” Mortensen said.
The livestock industry fears brucellosis because it thinks an infection would harm cattle ranchers’ ability to sell meat to other states. Cattle producers who live near Yellowstone are inside a surveillance area, and before they move their animals somewhere else they are subject to stringent testing requirements. Industry representatives also want to ensure that surveillance area isn’t expanded to include more parts of the state.
Biologists say more than half of Yellowstone’s bison have been exposed to the disease, though that doesn’t mean they are infected. There has been no documented case of bison transmitting the disease to cattle in the wild, which bison advocates often point to as proof that disease fears are overblown. Elk can also carry the disease, and they have transmitted the disease to cattle.
“The bison has always been blamed for the spreading of this brucellosis when the elk has been the main culprit over time,” said Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Alan Redfield, R-Pray, opposed the bill because he sees the quarantine program as a move by Yellowstone National Park to pressure the state into allowing more free-roaming bison.
“My biggest problem is Yellowstone National Park and the administration thereof and the treatment that they’re doing to Montana and the pressure that they’re trying to put on our governor,” said Redfield.
Initially, Curdy described the bill as a means to “address one technical point in Montana law.” He introduced the bill shortly after negotiations between state and federal officials over a proposed transfer of 40 Yellowstone bison from Stephens Creek to Fort Peck.
After learning that the 40 bison were set to be slaughtered to make room for more bison, Montana Governor Steve Bullock temporarily halted operations. Eventually, officials agreed to spare 24 of the 40 Yellowstone bison, which will be held at USDA corrals near Corwin Springs before heading to Fort Peck. The 24 that will be spared are all males. The rest, all female, will be slaughtered.
According to the Chronicle, the 24 Yellowstone bison have not been moved as of Monday. As of yet, the Park’s public affairs office has not offered an updated timeline for their shipment.
Tribal Chairman Floyd Azure was displeased with the decision, but thanked the governor for his intervention. The Fort Peck quarantine facility has a capacity for 500 bison and it’s likely the tribes hoped to eventually breed bison in the facility as well as clear them of brucellosis.