Written by The Herald-News
The Fort Belknap Tribes and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks signed an agreement that will allow the translocation and care for up to 35 Yellowstone bison, currently on the Fort Peck Reservation.
The bison will be transferred from the Fort Peck Tribes bison ranch to Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. These bison were among the 61 that were moved from a quarantine facility near Gardiner, north of Yellowstone National Park, last year.
The animals are a part of a quarantine feasibility study that began in 2004, which was aimed at creating a group of bison free of the brucellosis bacteria, a disease that causes miscarriages in pregnant cattle, bison and elk.
The population of the bison has grown since last year. There are currently 76 bison at the ranch: 51 adults, eight yearlings and 16 calves. There was a fire last September that resulted in the death of eight adult bison and nine calves. The male to female ratio of the bison is unknown following the fire.
Fort Peck wildlife officials and officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service recently tested the bison for brucellosis by taking blood from each animal’s tail.
The bison were recently moved from a pasture of 4,800 acres to a pasture of 2,400 acres, from where the bison were herded into corrals. The crew, who are relatively new at herding bison, had trouble getting the animals to go into the designated area for testing, possibly due to the hot weather and the animals’ intelligence.
In an effort to create a visual barrier, crews put up a snow fence Tuesday to attempt to convince the bison to go into the corral. As of presstime, the crew was able to herd some of the animals into the designated area using ATVs and pickups. Crews had tried four times unsuccessfully Monday to round up the bison.
The blood samples were to be flown to Bozeman, where the tests will be conducted. Officials will not move the bison until test results are received. These bison, excluding the calves, have previously tested negative.
Fort Belknap was evaluated as a potential site for the bison in an environmental assessment in 2010. The animals will be placed in a 965-acre pasture, which is separated from other pastures that are currently grazed by the tribes’ herd of 450 bison and cattle. The tribes recently finished a fencing project around the pasture that meets the standards for bison containment.
In addition to transferring the bison, the FWP and the Assiniboine and Sioux of the Fort Peck Reservation and Gros Ventre tribe of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation agreed to continue to test for diseases on the bison, properly contain the animals, immediately respond to any escape, take sole responsibility for damage caused by the escaped bison and provide Montana with disease-free bison for future conservation efforts. Follow-up testing will continue through 2017.
Dan Rather’s news team and High Plains Films were on hand to capture footage of the roundup.