In response to a recent environmental assessment, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will recommend that 68 disease-free bison be relocated to two northern Montana Indian reservations.
The tribal lands were evaluated in an EA that considered moving about 150 disease-free bison that currently are held in a quarantine facility and on a ranch in southwestern Montana. The tribal lands recommended include the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation near Malta and the Fort Peck Indian Reservation near Wolf Point.
Two wildlife management areas were also considered in the EA—the 7,800-acre Marias River WMA near Shelby and the 28,000-acre Spotted Dog WMA near Avon—but neither will be recommended as bison relocation sites.
An official “Record of Decision” was signed by FWP Director Joe Maurier today. If FWP Commission approves the recommendation at its meeting in Helena on Dec. 9 the bison could be moved this winter.
FWP held three public meetings in October—attended by about 400 people—to discuss the relocation proposals. The agency also received more than 3,370 written comments, plus a petition signed by 600 people who opposed the relocation of bison to Spotted Dog WMA. The two WMA proposals were opposed by many neighboring landowners, livestock producers, local governments, and hunters.
While there was opposition to the tribal sites by neighboring landowners along Montana’s Hi-Line, the tribal locations were supported by the local tribes and bison advocates.
The bison to be relocated are part of a study that began in 2004 aimed at determining if bison could 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 now considered brucellosis-free but to complete the feasibility study additional follow-up testing will continue.
Accordingly, management-plan agreements for each tribal site must include commitments to: (1) continue disease testing for five years, (2) properly contain bison, (3) immediately respond to any escapes of bison, and (4) provide Montana with disease-free bison for future conservation efforts. There are no infrastructure costs for FWP to pay associated with the recommended tribal lands.
FWP Wildlife Bureau Chief Ken McDonald said FWP’s initial goal was to relocate up to 150 of the disease-free bison from a quarantine facility near Gardiner and from a temporary site at the Green Ranch near Bozeman. A “no action” alternative would have had the bison remain at those locations.
If the recommendation is approved, and when management agreements are in place, all 68 bison now held at the quarantine facility will be relocated to the tribal sites and the quarantine facility will end its operations. The 143 bison now on the Green Ranch will remain there at least through 2015, and the anticipated completion of a comprehensive bison management strategy. The strategy will seek to indentify suitable habitats for wild bison in Montana.
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.