It was a quiet event, attended by only a few, but the trucking of 55 Yellowstone bison to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in late August may mark a turning point in state and federal struggles to control park bison populations.
The bison will be quarantined at Fort Peck as a final step in ensuring they are disease free and then they and their offspring can be moved to bolster other herds of bison throughout the region.
Some bison are known to carry brucellosis, a disease that can cause domestic livestock to abort their fetuses. There has never been a documented case of bison transmitting the disease to livestock, but disproportionate fears of infection has driven bison management policy for decades. That policy has involved hazing roaming bison back into Yellowstone and the wholesale slaughter of bison when they are driven from the park by heavy winter snowfall. These draconian measures have garnered national attention and generated negative publicity for Montana's wildlife management policies.
Bison advocates have urged allowing the animals to roam outside the park and using excess numbers of bison to start or expand herds in other appropriate habitats. But agricultural concerns have largely thwarted those efforts.
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The successful move of the bison to Fort Peck — along with more expected in the coming months — could change all that. If the bison prove to be disease free, the move could open the door to many more animals being shipped to new locations. And the trade in bison to other herds could become economic development tool for the reservation.
Bison are a wildlife species native to the Great Plains just as much as elk and antelope are. But sometimes less-than-rational fear of the lumbering beasts has led to bad decisions. The option of moving bison to other suitable locations offers a new and much more humane tool for managing the species.
Tribal officials are urged to extend their best efforts to the successful management of the park bison. They are playing a key role in turning the page toward new and more enlightened bison management.
-- The Bozeman Daily Chronicle