State shuf­fling off its buf­falo

Aim to pre­serve ‘ge­netic in­tegrity’

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY MATTHEW BROWN

BILLINGS | Sixty-four bi­son from Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park were due to ar­rive at north­east Mon­tana’s Fort Peck Reser­va­tion, un­der a longstalled re­lo­ca­tion ini­tia­tive meant to re­pop­u­late parts of the West with the iconic, genetically pure an­i­mals.

Mon­tana Gov. Brian Sch­weitzer de­scribed the bi­son trans­fer as a ma­jor step in ef­forts to bring the an­i­mals back across a larger land­scape.

“This is where we’re go­ing to es­tab­lish the beach­head of genetically pure bi­son that will be avail­able as their num­bers grow to go to other reser­va­tions and other public lands all across the West,” Mr. Sch­weitzer said.

Tribal and state of­fi­cials signed an agree­ment late Fri­day al­low­ing the trans­fer to take place, said Robert Mag­nan with the Fort Peck Fish and Game Depart­ment.

For the Assini­boine and Sioux tribes of Fort Peck, tribal lead­ers said the re­lo­ca­tion of­fers a chance to re­vive their con­nec­tion with an an­i­mal that his­tor­i­cally pro­vided food, cloth­ing and shel­ter for their an­ces­tors.

Most bi­son, also known as buf­falo, are hy­brids that have been in­ter­bred with cat­tle.

Yel­low­stone’s an­i­mals are said to rep­re­sent one of the world’s last re­main­ing reser­voirs of pure bi­son ge­net­ics.

“One of the main things we’re try­ing to do is pre­serve the ge­netic in­tegrity of these an­i­mals,” Mr. Mag­nan said. “The cul­tural links from those ge­net­ics will be the clos­est to the bi­son of our an­ces­tors.”

De­tails of the ship­ment, which was sched­uled to ar­rive at Fort Peck on Mon­day, were be­ing kept quiet un­til it was un­der way to avoid a court in­junc­tion, Mr. Mag­nan said. A group of north­east Mon­tana landown­ers and prop­erty groups filed a law­suit in state dis­trict court in Jan­uary seek­ing to stop the trans­fer.

Sev­eral pre­vi­ous at­tempts to re­lo­cate the an­i­mals failed be­cause of op­po­si­tion from cat­tle pro­duc­ers and dif­fi­culty find­ing public or tribal land suit­able for the bi­son.

State wildlife of­fi­cials have said the re­lo­ca­tion of the Yel­low­stone bi­son may help an­swer the ques­tion of whether the species can be rein­tro­duced to some public lands in Mon­tana where they once roamed freely.

About half of the an­i­mals head­ing to Fort Peck will pos­si­bly be re­lo­cated later this year to the Fort Belk­nap In­dian Reser­va­tion in cen­tral Mon­tana. Fences for those an­i­mals have not yet been com­pleted.

But crit­ics of the re­lo­ca­tion have lin­ger­ing wor­ries about bi­son com­pet­ing with cat­tle for ran­ge­land.

State Sen. Rick Ri­p­ley, Wolf Creek Re­pub­li­can, a plain­tiff in the landown­ers’ law­suit, crit­i­cized Mon­day’s move and said it was in de­fi­ance of a law passed last year that re­quired of­fi­cials to come up with a statewide bi­son-man­age­ment plan be­fore mov­ing the an­i­mals.

“They just seem to think they are above the law,” he said. “They’re go­ing to have a lot of prob­lems with dam­age to pri­vate prop­erty that they could have ad­dressed prior to translo­ca­tion.”

The 64 bi­son and their off­spring will re­main in­side a fenced com­pound on the reser­va­tion and should not cause any prob­lems for the neigh­bors of the Assini­boine and Sioux tribes, Mr. Mag­nan said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A bi­son roams out­side a pen en­clos­ing oth­ers in Gar­diner, Mont., in Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park. On Mon­day, 64 bi­son from Yel­low­stone were to ar­rive at Mon­tana’s Fort Peck Reser­va­tion un­der a re­lo­ca­tion ini­tia­tive to re­pop­u­late parts of the West with the an­i­mals.

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