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Montana Considers Bison Relocation
January 6, 2011.
From Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks:
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will seek FWP Commission approval for a proposal to evaluate relocating disease-free bison associated with a long-term feasibility study to other areas in Montana.
The bison are part of a six-year old project directed by FWP and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at a 400-acre bison quarantine facility north of Yellowstone National Park.
The FWP Commission will consider the proposal, which includes conducting an environmental assessment, at its meeting in Helena on Jan. 13.
"As the state agency responsible for Montana’s wildlife, it is time that we take a serious look at this big game species' management," said FWP Director Joe Maurier. "Bison have been ignored as a big game species for 100 years. It's simply time to consider realistic options for its management in Montana."
Maurier said the goal would be to find appropriate areas that could support a huntable population of at least 50 bison. "I doubt that we'll ever get to a truly 'free-ranging' bison herd," he said, "but we want to see if we can find the right place where bison can roam behind a wildlife-friendly fence."
Such a fence would allow passage for animals like elk and deer, but would be impassable for bison. Maurier said the EA would pay particular attention to the fencing requirements needed to keep bison from migrating on to local private land.
Wildlife management areas that are likely to be considered for the relocation include the 32,000-acre Beartooth WMA south of Great Falls, the 5,800-acre Marias River WMA near Shelby and the 28,000-acre Spotted Dog WMA near Avon. Maurier said other public-land and Tribal-land options would also be considered.
Maurier said FWP has not established a timeline for a bison relocation but is rather seeking to explore options now for consideration in the future.
While the presence of brucellosis in the Yellowstone bison herd has been a source of concern for decades, bison involved in the study have been repeatedly tested over the course of their quarantine and continue to show no exposure to brucellosis.
About 86 of the study's bison are currently on 12,000 acres of suitable habitat provided by Turner Enterprise's Green Ranch. All quarantined bison on the Green Ranch, and 25 percent of their offspring, will be returned to FWP at the conclusion of the five-year agreement. The Green Ranch will retain 75 percent of the quarantined bison's offspring to offset management costs. An additional 50 bison are now ready to be moved off the quarantine site north of Gardner and another 40-50 will be ready next year.
In years past, Yellowstone animals were used to help restore elk, antelope and other wildlife herds in Montana and the West.
Wild and hunted bison exist in Alaska, Arizona, Utah, Canada and other places. Today in Montana hunts are limited to bison that migrate north from Yellowstone National Park into winter habitats near West Yellowstone and Gardiner.
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