Correction: The previous version of this story said it was the first direct transfer of female bison from the park to the tribes through a quarantine program to make sure the animals are disease-free. The bison were held in quarantine at a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility near Gardiner, Montana and loaded into the trailer at Stephens Creek Capture Facility in Yellowstone National Park. YPR regrets the error.
Thirty-three bison were transferred from Yellowstone National Park to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation Monday. It marked the first transfer of female bison to the tribes through the current quarantine program to make sure the animals are disease-free.
Wildlife managers early Monday morning loaded up 14 females and their calves, along with 5 bulls, into a trailer at the Stephens Creek Capture Facility in Yellowstone.
Robbie Magnan, the Fish and Game manager for the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, followed the semi-truck as it hauled the bison nearly 500 miles to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
“I’m feeling really great. We’ve always wanted to get females,” Magnan said.
He called it an exceptional bonus because some of the females are pregnant so the tribes get more calves in the spring.
Magnan said the new arrivals will spend the next year in the tribes’ half-a-million-dollar quarantine facility and be tested regularly for brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can cause pregnant bison, cattle and elk to abort their fetuses. He said the bison will then be sent to a tribe or federal agency trying to boost its conservation herd.
Chamois Andersen, the senior representative for Defenders of Wildlife, says the national conservation organization has been working for years with tribal and federal agencies to support bison recovery on the Great Plains.
“Yellowstone bison are highly valued and prized for their genetics. They were some of the original descendents of the last wild herds after the mass slaughters in the mid 1800s,” Andersen said.
Defenders of Wildlife paid several thousand dollars to cover the transportation costs of bison from Yellowstone to Fort Peck on Monday.
“This is one small way we can contribute to the cause and help fill gaps where needed,” Andersen said.
Nearly 5,000 bison live in Yellowstone National Park. Over half of them test positive for brucellosis, which makes many ranchers nervous.
There hasn’t been a confirmed case of bison spreading brucellosis to cattle, but wildlife officials say this is in large part due to management (i.e. hazing bison out of areas where cattle graze and keeping the herd size from getting too large).
The interagency bison management team earlier this month set goals of hunting 200 to 300 bison that migrate out of the park this winter and capturing another 400 to 600 to be shipped to slaughter.
A park biologist said the quarantine program has space for 110 bison.