The long, harsh winter is finally starting to break around Yellowstone, and that means the Yellowstone bison that migrated out of the park in search of food are finally being set free.
This past week, park managers began releasing small groups of some 700 bison that were held for the last few months at the Stephens Creek Capture Facility near the park boundary.
According the Billings Gazette, the first 28 bison and 22 calves were released on Saturday from Stephens Creek. Twenty-seven more were released on Sunday along with 14 calves, and on Monday, another 65 bison and 31 calves.
The bison are being released in small groups to ensure there is adequate food inside the park. In fact, park managers are delaying driving other wild bison back into the park until more snow has melted. The bison were supposed to be moved off the land by May 15 to make way for cattle grazing in the area, but heavy snow has made it difficult to move them.
Meanwhile, Montana wildlife officials inspected bison habitat at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Indian Reservations in preparation for possibly handing over a small number of Yellowstone bison to these tribes (read more about it here). Fort Peck appears to be the most likely place to receive Yellowstone bison that have been quarantined, tested and declared brucellosis-free. These bison are part of the “Yellowstone 60” that have been held at the quarantine facility for more than three years. Last year, a number of the formerly quarantined bison found a new home on Ted Turner’s ranch. Now, we hope that Montana’s tribes will take on the rest. Defenders has been working to raise money that will help Fort Belknap continue preparing their lands for the return of bison as well.
In The Field
Defenders bison expert Jonathan Proctor went down to Yellowstone this week for a meeting of the Yellowstone bison citizen’s advisory committee with hopes of seeing the bison being released back into the park. Unfortunately, the group was not allowed near the capture facility, nor did they see the hazing taking place. However, he did get this picture of the group braving lots of rain during a tour of the area just north of the park where bison are now roaming free.
In The Legislature
While bison advocates were successful in blocking a number of bills that would have impeded bison conservation in Montana, two others got through and are now awaiting Gov. Schweitzer’s signature. One, SB 212, would require state wildlife officials to tag and monitor bison that are transported into the state. The other, SB 207, would essentially treat bison like sheep when transporting them across county lines, requiring a $1 permit to do so. Both are relatively minor changes but show that state lawmakers, with the backing of the cattle industry, continue to push for treating bison like livestock instead of wildlife.
In The Courts
Last week, the Park County Stockgrowers Association sued the state of Montana for allowing some of these bison to roam outside the park (read the full story here). They contend that free-roaming bison, many of which carry the disease brucellosis, are a threat to their livestock even though no transmission between bison and cattle has ever been documented. The latest AP report indicates that a judge may be taking their side and putting a hold on the new management plan that allowed bison to roam outside the park this year.