- Written by John Plestina
The Fort Peck Tribes welcomed 139 genetically pure bison from Yellowstone National Park Nov. 13. (Photo by John Plestina)
It was history in the making and a crowd braved freezing temperatures as the first two semis loaded with about 100 of 139 wild bison arrived at the Fort Peck Tribes 13,000-acre Cultural Range Unit, 29 miles northeast of Wolf Point, Thursday, Nov. 13.
One of the semis broke down and about 40 buffalo were delivered to the tribes the next day.
The three semis with cattle trailers that were contracted from a Nebraska livestock hauler left CNN founder Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch near Bozeman the day before for the nine-hour ride to the Fort Peck Reservation. The bison that came from the 4,900-strong Yellowstone National Park herd had been held in quarantine for about eight years on Turner’s ranch. The Yellowstone herd is the largest in the nation.
The 139 bison are being held 10 days in a 140-acre pen and will then be released onto a 13,000-acre pasture northwest of Poplar where they will join 63 Yellowstone buffalo that were transferred to the reservation in 2012, creating the largest conservation herd in Montana outside Yellowstone National Park.
The goal of the quarantine was to create a herd that is genetically pure [no cattle genes] and free of brucellosis, a bacterial cattle disease.
Previous attempts to relocate the bison from Turner’s ranch were unsuccessful partly due to opposition from livestock interests sparked by concerns about brucellosis.
The now nearly 200 bison on the reservation are certified as free of brucellosis.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I’ve been waiting for the Yellowstone bison for a long time,” Laurel veterinarian Don Woerner said.
“I’ve been following this whole quarantine thing. They proved it would work,” he said.
“They have not found any cattle genes,” Woerner said.
National Wildlife Federation Tribal Lands Program Manager Alexis Bonogofsky has worked in partnership with the Fort Peck Tribes and other Western tribes addressing wildlife, energy and cultural issues for more than a decade. The Billings woman was at the Cultural Range Unit when the bison arrived.
“The goal is to continue with these relocations to various tribes,” Bonogofsky said.
The herd on the reservation will help tribal members regain a connection to their history. Bison play a key role in some ceremonies and were welcomed with song and prayers.
Yellowstone bison are descendants of the massive wild herds that roamed the West during the 1800s and totaled up to 30 million. Over hunting and a lack of management reduced the population to about 1,000 by the end of the nineteenth century.
State Wildlife Commission recently announced a decision to implement the recent approval by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to relocate 140 bison to the reservation. One bull was euthanized prior to the trip because it had killed other bulls.
Following the completion of environmental analysis and review of public comments, a decision by the FWP found no significant issues associated with relocating bison to the tribal location, or to three out-of-state locations that were also under consideration.
The finding essentially followed the Fish and Wildlife Commission’s October approval to keep the bison within state borders if a finding of no significance was determined.
In March, state wildlife officials requested proposals from agencies or organizations capable of permanently caring for the bison for conservation purposes. The bison have been held at the Green Ranch, west of Bozeman, during their five-year monitoring period.
Brucellosis, initially introduced to North America through livestock but now also found in Yellowstone bison, has been the main reason for opposition by some individuals and groups to the relocation of Yellowstone bison, even though bison have not been implicated in a single case of transmission of brucellosis to cattle in the wild.
FWP received 10 proposals, four of which were analyzed in the environmental assessment. The examined proposals included one from the Fort Peck Tribes and others from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the Wildlife Conservation Society Zoo Consortium in New York and Ohio.
- Written by Culbertson Searchlight
Culbertson School held its annual Veterans Day Program on Tuesday, Nov. 11, honoring past, present and future military people with music, praise and gratitude. After the ceremony, the veterans and their families joined the students for lunch and cupcakes. (Photo by Nancy Mahan)
- Written by Culbertson Searchlight
Culbertson’s JMG class headed to the Roosevelt Medical Center to share quality time with some of the residents. Balloon volleyball was the game of choice. Several residents and the students sat around a table and batted the balloon back and forth. (Photo by Nancy Mahan)
- Written by John Plestina
With the voters approving bond funding for a new jail on Tuesday, Nov. 4, the Roosevelt County Commissioners voted, Monday, Nov. 17, to move forward and hire Kimme and Associates, a Champaign, Ill.-based criminal justice facilities planner, to develop a request for proposals from architects and then to send the RFP to architects.
Dennis Kimme and Kimme and Associates has worked with the county on the jail issue for several years.
“He knows this jail better than anybody,” commissioner Gary Macdonald said.
“He’s been with us since Day 1,” jail administrator Melvin Clark said.
Nearly 57 percent of voters approved the bonding measure for a new jail and improved office space for the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s office with a 47.58 percent voter turnout. A lower, 34.88 percent voter turnout prevented passage of a similar measure in June.
The approval authorizes the county commissioners to issue and sell $11.86 million in general obligation bonds to be repaid within 20 years.
The projected mill levy increase would add $42.68 annually to the taxes on a residence assessed at $100,000.
The current jail is under-sized and outdated.
Legal action brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2013 forced Roosevelt County to reduce the number of jail beds by nearly one half and the threat of further legal action against the county has loomed over the aging jail that does not meet current standards.
Macdonald said he contacted the bonding company and was told they could not move forward until after the commissioners canvas the election, which will happen later this week.
He said the bonding company will bond half of the project at a time.
“That gives us the opportunity to find money so we won’t have to bond as much the second time around,” Macdonald said.
The county will work with Great Northern Development Corporation to search for other funding sources.
Commission chairman Duane Nygaard asked what could happen if an architect projects a higher construction cost than Kimme had projected.
Macdonald responded that it could reduce the number of jail beds.
“Hopefully they estimated this high enough,” he said.
- Written by John Plestina
The second California man who was charged in an eastern Roosevelt County drug case was sentenced to prison in 15th District Court Wednesday, Nov. 12.
Judge David Cybulski sentenced Adam Lucatero Alonzo, 31, of Williston, N.D. and San Bernadino, Calif., to 10 years in the custody of the Montana Department of Corrections with five years suspended, a $30,000 fine with credit for 220 days served in the Roosevelt County Jail at $50 per day.
Alonzo withdrew a not guilty plea and pleaded guilty in 15th District Court to criminal possession of dangerous drugs with intent to distribute, Wednesday, Aug. 26, after signing a plea agreement.
Before Cybulski imposed sentence, probation officer Trevor Newman testified that he was recommending that the sentence follow the plea agreement with a 10-year sentence to the Montana State Prison with five years suspended. The DOC sentence rather than the Montana State Prison allows for Alonzo to be sent to a state boot camp, substance abuse programs or mental health facilities.
At the time he pleaded guilty, Alonzo testified that he had methamphetamine, syringes, small plastic bags, a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, digital scale, 10 cell phones and $991 in cash and paraphernalia in his possession.
Roosevelt County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Alonzo and Hilario Velasquez, 34, of Williston, N.D., and Riverside, Calif., Sept. 25, 2013, following a traffic stop on U.S. Hwy. 2 eastbound, between Bainville and Culbertson. Alonzo was driving.
A jury convicted Velasquez, of two drug charges in 15th District Court, Friday, Aug. 1.
Cybulski sentenced Velasquez to 10-years commitment to the Montana Department of Corrections with five years suspended and a $30,000 fine, Wednesday, Sept. 24.
Velasquez has been admitted to the DOC-operated Treasure State Correctional Training Center, a 90-120 -day military style boot camp program located near Deer Lodge, and is eligible for a 90-120-day aftercare program in a secure facility in Great Falls.
Both programs might be available to Alonzo.