Yellowstone bison may be shipped to Fort Peck Indian Reservation

Posted at 2:25 PM, May 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-27 16:25:05-04

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – Bison from Yellowstone National Park may soon be headed to eastern Montana.

The superintendent of Yellowstone National Park said he expects the park will ship bison to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation before the end of the year.

The animals will be used to add to a purebred herd on tribal land.

The bison-sharing program went through some challenging times this past winter, however.

“Really we had to start over,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk.

Wenk is talking about the program to quarantine bison to share with Montana’s Fort Peck Tribe. That program was dealt a big setback this winter when protesters released some of the animals.

“They let out bison we’ve been holding, some for as long as about 18 months, 21 months,” said Wenk.  

The fences were cut at the holding facility at Stephens Creek and bison escaped.

“That really is a violation of the protocol, so you really have to start over again,” said Wenk.

There are now 70 male and 25 female bison being tested and retested to make sure they don’t have brucellosis, a disease ranchers fear could be transmitted to cattle.

“We’ve never had the transfer, the transmission of disease from bison to cattle,” said Wenk. “All the transmissions of disease have been from elk to cattle.”

That’s partly why Wenk said the bison can be ready to share in months instead of years.

“We believe that we’re complying with the uniform methods and rules,” said Wenk.

But Wenk has to convince others he is right.

“We’re in negotiations now with the state of Montana, AAA, APHIS, as well as well as the tribe at Fort Peck,” he said.

But he is optimistic.

“I think we’re going to meet all the standards that are out there,” he said. “It’s such a tremendous resource and such an incredible opportunity for the public."

Wenk said it gives the public a chance to get a glimpse of what primitive America used to look like.

“Yellowstone is, the last, one of the last remnants of, you know, a genetically pure native population of bison, and that’s pretty, that’s pretty special,” Wenk said.

Wenk said he could always use some extra funding to create a backup herd of genetically pure bison, but adds that should not be an excuse for failing to act quickly to share bison with Fort Peck and other tribes.

So far there are no arrests in connection with the two incidents where fences were cut.

But the park service said extra security has been added in the bison quarantine areas.

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