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28 more Yellowstone bison moved to Fort Peck Reservation for quarantine

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Bison guys

Robbie Magnan, director of the Fort Peck Fish and Wildlife Department, at left, and Chris Geremia, senior bison biologist for Yellowstone National Park, discuss bison loading operations on Wednesday.

For the sixth time since the exchange was established, 28 Yellowstone National Park bison were shipped to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation on Wednesday.

The Bison Conservation Transfer Program allows the park to divert bison that have passed quarantine to the tribe. The quarantine ensures the animals are free of the disease brucellosis. The final phase of the quarantine process takes place on the reservation, after which the animals can be distributed to other Indian nations.

“This program has made incredible strides in the cultural and ecological restoration of bison across the country,” said Chamois Andersen, senior Rockies and Plains representative at Defenders of Wildlife, in a statement. Defenders has been a partner in the quarantine and transfer program.

Bison trucking

Twenty-eight Yellowstone National Park bison are trucked from the Stephen's Creek capture facility on Wednesday.

In partnering with the InterTribal Buffalo Council, the park and reservation have moved almost 182 bison to the reservation. From there, 82 animals have been distributed to 18 tribal nations in 10 states, including as far away as Alaska, once the quarantine process is completed. The most recent transfers in December were of 56 bison moved to the Yakama Nation in Washington and Modoc Nation in Oklahoma.

“It’s something that we’re very proud of,” said Cam Sholly, park superintendent, on Thursday. “We’re putting record amounts of money into bison conservation. We’re not doing that alone.”

Last year, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Yellowstone Forever helped raise funds to pay for new fencing to allow the park to increase the number of bison held in quarantine from 80 to 200.

“Improvements will be completed this winter,” the Park Service said, resulting in the transfer of about 100 animals a year to tribes as an alternative to slaughter.

As part of an agreement with the state of Montana, the Park Service also diverts bison to slaughter to decrease their population in the park. Meat from the slaughtered bison is distributed to participating tribes. Tribal and state hunters also kill bison, mainly outside the park’s northern boundary near Gardiner.

“The bison transferred this week were captured at Stephens Creek in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park in March 2020,” according to the Park Service. “Twenty males completed quarantine in the park and a small family group of eight (one male, four females, three calves) completed quarantine in the nearby APHIS-leased facility at Corwin Springs. Currently, 67 animals are still in the Bison Conservation Transfer Program, and the park and APHIS intend to enter 80-120 new animals into the program this winter.”

Yellowstone’s bison are direct descendants of the last bison saved from the mass slaughter of the 19th century. While the species once boasted a population of more than 30 million across North America, only about 1,000 remained by 1900, most in captivity, with one small herd in Yellowstone. Though saved from extinction and numbering 500,000 today, almost all bison are managed as livestock and contain cattle genetics. Yellowstone bison, because of their pure genetics, are therefore prized.

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