Montana Public Radio

Fort Peck Tribes Say No To Latest Bison Relocation Deal

Nov 29, 2018

A Montana tribe has rejected an agreement with the Department of Agriculture that would allow the transfer of a small group of wild bison from Yellowstone National Park to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Majel Russell, an attorney for the Fort Peck Tribes, says the reason for the refusal is that the agreement would limit the involvement of the tribes in the bison quarantine process.

"This latest agreement that’s been proposed would limit the tribes to just the assurance testing which is the end phase of quarantine rather than allowing the tribe to do phase two and phase one," says Russell.

The purpose of the three-part bison quarantine is to prevent the spread of brucellosis to cattle.

Many of Yellowstone’s elk and bison are known to carry the disease. But a 2017 National Academy of Sciences study found that wild elk are the primary source of brucellosis infections among cattle in the Greater Yellowstone area and there has not been a documented case of bison transmitting it to cattle in the wild.

Fort Peck has newly-built quarantine facilities, which Russell says could accommodate more animals than the facilities currently in use outside Yellowstone National Park.

"We don't think the facilities there are large enough to accommodate all the buffalo that are coming out," says Russell. "So it's going to limit the number of buffalo that actually make it to assurance testing at Fort Peck. That's what we're concerned about."

The disagreement over where the stages of quarantine should take place marks another setback in years of efforts to restore Yellowstone bison to tribal lands that would otherwise be sent to slaughter.