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Yellowstone NP bison could soon be headed to tribal lands

Posted at 3:23 PM, May 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 14:51:09-04

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

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

Those animals will be used to add to a purebred herd on tribal land. But the bison-sharing program when through some challenging times this past winter.

“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. But 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.

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 says 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 that 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 Wenk is optimistic, “I think we’re going to meet all the standards that are out there.”

When you talk to Wenk you quickly learn that he really likes Yellowstone, but most of all, he likes the bison.

“It’s such a tremendous resource and such an incredible opportunity for the public,” he said.

Wenk says 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 says 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 US Park Service says extra security has been added in the bison quarantine areas.

Reporting by John Sherer for MTN News