A herd of Yellowstone bison from the Fort Peck Reservation was released on Fort Belknap last Thursday, finally fulfilling a plan by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to quarantine brucellosis-free animals, prove they can remain disease-free, and transplant them to the two Indian reservations on the eastern plains.
Thirty-four bison stepped out of trailers and trotted off to explore the 900-acre pasture. It was recently surrounded with a stout, new 8-foot fence.
Sixty-one Yellowstone bison were moved to the Fort Peck Reservation in March 2012. Half were supposed to go on to Fort Belknap but the whole translocation plan was controversial. The second move was delayed about a year by a lawsuit brought by nearby ranchers and property rights groups, who are afraid the bison might spread brucellosis to their cattle and be a problem if they escape. The Montana Supreme Court overturned a District Court stay on moving the bison from the Fort Peck Reservation. After a final clean bill of health, the bison were loaded up and taken to Fort Belknap.
It was reported that one bison broke a leg and was later put down.
Although the tribes on both reservations already had commercial herds of bison, they were excited about acquiring bison from Yellowstone, which are supposed to be unmixed with cattle genes. On both reservations, the bison were greeted with songs and ceremony. As the herds expand, FWP intends to use some to start pure herds elsewhere.
The memorandum of understanding between FWP and Fort Belknap requires the tribe to immediately recapture any bison that escape from the pasture and to maintain insurance to pay for damage. Bison from the commercial herd are considered livestock, but the Yellowstone bison are considered to be wildlife.