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Yellowstone bison relocation proposed

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking comment on an environmental assessment of four interim locations and management for about 150 disease-free bison pending the development of a statewide bison conservation strategy. The interim locations include two Indian reservations and two wildlife management areas.

Tribal lands evaluated in the environmental assessment include the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation near Malta and the Fort Peck Indian Reservation near Wolf Point. Wildlife management areas assessed are the 5,800-acre Marias River WMA near Shelby and the 28,000-acre Spotted Dog WMA near Avon.

The bison are part of a project that began in 2004 aimed at determining if bison can be kept free of the bacteria that causes brucellosis, a disease that results in miscarriages in some pregnant animals, including domestic cattle, and bison and elk. The bison, which were repeatedly tested for the disease, are considered brucellosis-free, but to complete the feasibility study additional follow-up testing will continue.

The goal is to relocate up to 150 of the disease-free bison from the quarantine facility and from a temporary site at the Green Ranch near Bozeman, said FWP Wildlife Bureau Chief Ken McDonald. A “no action” alternative would have the bison remain at these locations.

Should the animals be relocated to the WMAs, the bison would be held for an interim period pending completion of a statewide conservation strategy, which is expected by 2015. That conservation strategy would identify potential permanent locations appropriate Montana habitats for brucellosis-free bison.

No infrastructure costs are associated with the interim tribal lands under consideration. Infrastructure improvement costs up to $2 million are possible on the WMA’s.

FWP intends to have staff on the wildlife management areas as necessary, McDonald said. They also plan to continue monitoring and testing the animals. Management plans would also include commitments by FWP or the tribes to respond to any escapes of bison from the facilities.

For more information and to comment visit FWP online at fwp.mt.gov and click ‘Recent Public Notices.’ Comments must be received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 14.

Wild bison exist in Alaska, Arizona, Utah, Canada and other places. Today in Montana wild bison that migrate north from Yellowstone National Park are found in winter near West Yellowstone and Gardiner. In years past, Yellowstone animals were used to help restore elk, antelope and other wildlife herds in Montana and the West.