It's difficult to imagine a safer or better home for 14 Yellowstone bison than Guernsey State Park, which was suggested by Wyoming officials to host the animals. They are now in a Gardiner, Mont., quarantine facility and face possible slaughter if federal and state agencies in Wyoming and Montana can't find an acceptable place to keep them.
But some eastern Wyoming ranchers have thrown a wrench into the process by objecting to the proposal. They contend the bison could bring brucellosis to the area, which would be a great blow to the livestock industry. Brucellosis can cause cows to abort their calves, and could shut down marketing Wyoming cattle.
However, the animals have been extensively tested for brucellosis and are definitely free of the disease. State and federal officials say there's no risk in releasing the animals elsewhere.
"If I didn't think that, and if [federal animal health officials] didn't think that, neither of us would entertain any consideration of taking them out of there," Jim Logan, Wyoming state veterinarian, told The Associated Press.
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Logan has a long history of working to protect wildlife while keeping the livestock industry healthy. If he says there's no risk of spreading brucellosis by moving the bison to Guernsey, we'll take him at his word. So should Wyoming ranchers.
The goal of the federal-state program is to isolate and protect bison free of brucellosis, so they can be returned to public and/or tribal lands. The disease is found in many of the Yellowstone bison, which has led to their slaughter after they leave the park's boundaries.
Under the pilot program in Guernsey, the 14 bison would live on about 1,200 undeveloped acres surrounded on three sides by the Guernsey Reservoir. Park Superintendent Todd Stevenson said the pasture would be double-fenced, including an interior electrical fence. The pasture boundary next to National Guard and private land would have a third layer of fence.
A member of the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team, state Sen. John Hines, R-Gillette, is sympathetic to the ranchers' concerns but added he is still open to the proposal. "If we're going to have a pilot program working on this, I think the location [at Guernsey State Park] is probably as good as we can find just because of the water on three sides," the legislator said. "There's less chance of them getting out and commingling."
Domenic Bravo, Wyoming State Park Division administrator, was right when he said the bison should serve as a draw for tourists, plus enable the park to continue its conservation mission.
Logan, meanwhile, said relocating the disease-free bison will help conserve the genetics of the Yellowstone herd, and someday wildlife managers may be able to remove brucellosis-infected bison from the park and replace them with clean animals.
The other portion of the bison relocation pilot program -- sending 74 bison from the quarantine facility to Ted Turner's Montana ranch -- has been extremely controversial. We support the plan, but conservationists adamantly oppose what they claim is the privatization of public wildlife. The legality of the proposal will probably be decided by the federal courts.
But there should be no question about the safety of the Guernsey State Park plan, because ranchers' brucellosis fears are not justified.