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Bison Transfer Expands To Sixteen Native American Tribes

A bull bison jumps out of a trailer at the quarantine facility at Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana, August 23, 2019.
Rachel Cramer
Yellowstone Public Radio
A bull bison jumps out of a trailer at the quarantine facility at Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana, August 23, 2019.

Sixteen Native American tribes across the U.S. will soon receive graduates of the bison quarantine program at the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

The InterTribal Buffalo Council Aug. 12 began transferring 40 bull bison to tribes in nine states to boost the long-term genetic health of cultural herds.

Fifteen bulls were sent out to the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Modoc Nation, Quapaw Nation, Cherokee Nation, and Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. On Thursday, more bison will be hauled to the Blackfeet Nation, Kalispell Tribe, Shoshone Bannock Tribes, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Forest County Potawatomi Nation and Oneida Nation. Logistics for two more tribes are still being worked out.

Arnell Abold, an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe, is the InterTribal Buffalo Council’s Executive Director. She says this moment is a celebration for tribes, the National Park Service and the state of Montana.

“This is huge for us, and we’re eternally grateful and humbled by this moment, and we look forward to putting more animals back on the landscape and returning them to their homeland," Abold said.

The bison are originally from herds in and around Yellowstone National Park. They were captured outside park boundaries as part of an interagency management plan, which includes hunting and shipping bison to slaughter, to keep the herd sizes in-check.

Under the quarantine program, bison that test negative for the bacterial disease brucellosis are isolated and tested regularly to ensure they are disease-free. Then they can be transferred to start or boost herds across the U.S.

Megan Davenport is a wildlife biologist with InterTribal Buffalo Council.

“Tribes have been advocating for the last 30 years, particularly with this Yellowstone issue, that there’s a better alternative to slaughter," Davenport said.

She says most of the bull bison in this group of 40 are going to tribes that want to boost the long-term genetic health of their herds. In the future, she says sending family groups may be more common.

Wednesday marked the second transfer of bison from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation’s quarantine facility to other tribes.

Last year was the first with five bison sent to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.