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Tolerance of roaming Yellowstone bison range uncertain



By Taylor Anderson

Ranchers want the people in charge of managing the roaming Yellowstone National Park bison to do something; they’re just not sure what.

“In ’89 you shoved the bison up…and they came right back down to the valley floor,” a long-time rancher from near Yellowstone told the group in charge, nine officials who make up the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP), at a meeting Wednesday in Bozeman.

The IBMP has a collective goal of conserving a wild, free-ranging bison population while protecting cattle from bison diseases.

The meeting was the second in two days by the IBMP, which consists of state, federal and tribal officials from various groups. The discussions tackled a heated issue among ranch owners outside the park: preventing diseased bison from mingling with livestock on ranches.

Members from the state Department of Livestock, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the National Park Service, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are currently surveying areas outside of Yellowstone to find a good place to relocate the herds when they mosey from the Park onto state lands in the winter.

Rick Wallen, a wildlife biologist in YNP, proposed to let bison range on Horse Butte until the NPS hazes them later this month. He delivered three NPS goals for managing the Yellowstone bison, which all include increasing tolerance toward free-roaming bison.

Bison from the Park can carry a disease called brucellosis, which leads to miscarriage, and originally came from cattle. Ranchers are concerned it could spread from bison to cattle if the herds drift onto state lands. 300 brucellosis-positive bison remain in captivity since their capture in the Gardiner Basin this winter.

Wednesday’s meeting also consisted of speakers from the Yellowstone Bison Citizens Working Group (CWG), a diverse group of Montanans collaborating ideas for managing bison. The CWG acts as an informative commission to help the IBMP in its pursuit of bison conservation. The IBMP, which has funded much of the group’s existence, agreed to help fund the CWG through September but strongly encouraged its leaders to find outside funding for the future.

The groups have until next winter to find solutions for the roaming herds. A court order stemming from a Park City lawsuit has closed a recently approved 75,000-acre pasture for the Yellowstone bison.

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