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Fort Peck Bison Dies in Brucellosis Quarantine

Michael Lusk
National Bison Range in Montana, on July 3, 2012.

A bison in the Fort Peck Tribes’ quarantine program died last week. The bull was one of five that were set to join Fort Peck’s burgeoning bison herd this fall.

A freak accident. That’s how Robert Magnan, director of the Fort Peck Tribes' Fish and Game Department, describes the bison’s death.

He said the bison were fine during a Thursday night check-in. Then on Friday morning, he found one of the bulls tangled in a 9,000-volt electrical fence, with porcupine quills in its face.

He said he doesn’t know what happened—if another bull ran him into the fence or if the porcupine spooked him.

All he said he knows is that the bison was shocked to death.

Over a poor cell phone connection, Magnan said this was an expensive test of the quarantine’s fencing system.

“It’s kind of a high cost to learn that, but we know we’re sure that they’re going to stay in it,” Magnan said.

In 2014, the Fort Peck Tribes spent half-a-million dollars constructing a state-of-the art quarantine facility for brucellosis.

Magnan said his department won’t change its quarantine protocol because the fence did its job—it kept the bull inside. He said that’s something cattle ranchers should take comfort in, since some worry that, despite lack of precedent, that bison can transmit brucellosis to cattle. It’s a disease cattle ranchers fear because it can make cattle abort their fetuses.

The four remaining bison will graduate from the quarantine this October.

Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America Corps Member.