Hundreds of bison that leave Yellowstone National Park each year are rounded up and killed to keep them from spreading brucellosis. But tribes have long wanted the disease-free bison to go to reservations.
Now, the National Park Service has signed an environmental assessment that will quarantine animals for six to 12 months before releasing them into tribal care. Public lands are also interested in growing bison herds.
Defenders of Wildlife’s Chamois Anderson said the Fort Peck Reservation spearheaded the effort, but other tribes will receive bison too.
“Fort Belknap for example, Wind River Reservation has indicated they’d like some Yellowstone bison,” Anderson said. “Again, they’re really highly prized for their pure genetics. They’ve had no cattle integration.”
Anderson said every year half the bison rounded up test disease-free but are killed anyway.
“And we find that highly unfortunate because there are willing recipients for these animals including our tribal partners and other public lands,” she said.
The government is worried about bison spreading brucellosis to cattle, even though there are no known cases of that.
Mark Azure with the Fort Belknap Tribe said a surveillance program to give bison to tribes has been a long time coming. The Fort Peck Reservation even built a half-million-dollar quarantine facility, but still the transfer of bison wasn’t allowed.
“But the tribes stood firm,” said Azure. “Now it sounds like those animals at those two facilities down there around the park, before the end of this year, will make their way up to Fort Peck.”
Almost 60 bison are ready to go.
Azure said tribes around the U.S. and Canada are celebrating.
“When you get that animal back there’s a healing—maybe a small one but there’s a healing there,” he said. “It gives a sense of who you are and it can affect your outlook.”
Azure says the tribes were finally able to get the environmental assessment signed after meeting personally with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in Washington.