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MSGA voices brucellosis concerns over quarantine facility

Nicole Michaels
for Tri-State Livestock News
Montana Stockgrowers Association is requesting an Environmental Impact Statement before a new bison quarantine facility is developed. Their concern centers around the potential spread of brucellosis from bison to cattle. iStock photo.

Officials from the Montana Stockgrowers Association continue to question the science of brucellosis testing as wildlife officials prepare to relocate Yellowstone bison across the state.

Stockgrowers are requesting that Yellowstone National Park complete a full environmental impact statement before developing a bison quarantine facility on the Fort Peck Reservation.

More testing is needed, Stockgrowers say, because the standard of a 30-day quarantine is insufficient to protect cattle producers against disease transmission.

A percentage of animals that test negative for brucellosis may convert to positive at a later date, they say, citing a previous study in which 17 percent of animals tested positive after a month.

Roughly half of park bison test positive for brucellosis, but Montana maintains its brucellosis-free status in domestic livestock.

Yellowstone managers are looking for strategies to reduce slaughter of genetically pure wild bison, and shipping bison to American Indian lands is getting a look.

And then there is the land itself, which may also be transferred to tribes.

More than 18,000 acres could be held in trust going forward, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is discussing the possibility of turning it all over to the Salish and Kootenai.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes would, under one proposal, be transferred the land that makes up the National Bison Range.

The 18,766 acre range is 80 miles south of Kalispell near Moiese, Montana. It was established in 1908 for the preservation of the bison at a time when the formerly abundant animals had been hunted to near extinction.

Transferring the refuge would need congressional approval.

Fish and Wildlife Regional Director Noreen Walsh started out by informing agency employees of the change.

The details of how the refuge and its herd would be managed is unclear as officials enter the first stages of discussion.

Critics of previous co-management of the refuge are alarmed at the prospect of turning over management to the tribes.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a national advocacy group, rebuked the plan in a press release issued Monday.

Tribes have sought ownership of the range for decades, and were co-managing the range in 2005. That relationship has been rocky ever since.

U.S. agencies say the tribes performed poorly. Tribal officials said criticisms were unfounded and politically motivated.

Tribal spokesman Rob McDonald said this week that management of the land is consistent with tribal values and Montana values.

Yellowstone bison are being culled again this winter for meat and hides as they migrate outside park boundaries into Montana for better grazing.

Montana is also, for the first time in more than a century, looking at allowing bison to stay in the state year round in select areas.

The proposed year-round grazing areas, also known as tolerance zones, lie between the Madison and Gallatin rivers.

On the west side of the proposed tolerance area, there are no allotments. In areas where there are allotments, state agencies and producers are expected to cooperate to keep cattle and bison from comingling.

Yellowstone bison number near 5,000. In a typical year, 700 calves are born to the herd, which park managers want to reduce to 3,500.

The Interagency Bison Management Plan guides the management of bison and brucellosis in and around Yellowstone National Park. It is administered by federal and state agencies, as well as tribal bodies.

Brucellosis exposed bison may only be moved to approved meat processing or research facilities, in accordance with state and federal law.


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