Land board OK's Yellowstone bison deal
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP)--The Montana Land Board has given final approval to a multi-million dollar plan allowing some Yellowstone National Park bison to avoid slaughter by crossing through a ranch just north of the park.
Under terms of the deal, state and federal agencies and private conservation groups will pay $3.3 million over the next two decades to the ranch's owner, the Church Universal and Triumphant.
In exchange, the church will allow bison to travel through its property, the Royal Teton Ranch, along a fenced corridor leading to more than 2,500 acres in the Gallatin National Forest.
The agreement, approved on a 5 to 0 vote Dec. 15, would affect only 25 bison this year and possibly 100 in future years. Last winter, 1,600 were killed under a disease management program that blocks the animals' yearly migrations to lower elevations.
Backers of the land deal said the high cost was worth it to break an impasse between those who want greater tolerance of bison and others concerned about spread of the disease brucellosis.
Before voting for the deal, Gov. Brian Schweitzer said it is imperfect but "this is not the last step in this quest for brucellosis and bison management."
Brucellosis shows up in about half the park's bison. The livestock industry fears the disease because it causes cows to abort their young. Representatives of the Montana Stockgrowers Association had opposed the deal with the church, saying priority should have gone to elimination of brucellosis.
Critics from the other side, including the Gallatin Wildlife Association, have dismissed the deal as a token gesture of bison tolerance that will not prevent hundreds of bison from being slaughtered.
The Yellowstone bison population is estimated at several thousand.
Since 2000, more than 3,000 bison that left park boundaries have been slaughtered. No transmissions of brucellosis from wild bison to cattle have been recorded. In the last several years, however, elk have been suspected of transmitting brucellosis to cattle.
The deal approved Dec. 15 had been stalled for several years.
It calls for $1.5 million from the National Park Service, $1 million from conservation groups and $300,000 from the state. The remaining money for the church--in payments over the next 19 years--will come through interest on those dollars.
Final signatures on the deal are expected in coming days. That will conclude a process that began in 2000, when the federal government bought 5,300 acres of the Royal Teton Ranch for $11.2 million. An additional 1,500 acres in conservation easements were bought at the time for $1.8 million.
Pat Flowers of the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks said Dec. 15 that about 300 to 350 acres of those easements would be open to bison.