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Ranchers oppose Yellowstone bison relocation

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP)--Ranchers are voicing concern about plans to relocate some Yellowstone Park bison to Indian reservations in Montana and Wyoming.

The ranchers are worried about the animals' history of carrying brucellosis, a disease that causes domestic cows to miscarry.

"There isn't anyone up here who wants it. It's a cockamamie idea, and it's an experimental deal," said John Brenden, a Scobey rancher and legislator. "I don't like anybody experimenting on us."

At issue is the relocation of more than 40 bison, kept under quarantine for three years as part of an experiment to keep alive at least some of the bison migrating from Yellowstone National Park.

Bison that have left the park and tested positive for brucellosis have been slaughtered in Montana to prevent the animals from coming in contact with livestock.

However, the quarantined bison have tested negative for brucellosis for three years, been allowed to reproduce in captivity and are now ready for relocation. Three Indian reservations, the Fort Belknap and Fort Peck reservations in Montana and Wind River in Wyoming, have submitted proposals for acquiring the bison.

The animals are sought after because of bloodline purity, said Robbie Magnum, who manages an existing herd of 117 bison on the Fort Peck Reservation. Park bison breed within their species, unlike their nonpark cousins that, over the years, have been crossbred with cattle.

Magnum said the park bison would not only improve the quality of the Fort Peck herd but also help tribal members return to a traditional diet low in carbohydrates and rich in bison meat. Diabetes is a serious problem on the reservation. Lowering carbohydrate consumption is considered key to managing blood sugar levels.

Representatives from state and federal government agencies will meet this month to review bison management proposals submitted by the reservations.

Ron Aasheim, spokesman for the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, said it will be months before any bison are relocated.

The Fort Peck Reservation's borders stretch within a few miles of Brenden's home.

Brenden and other ranchers worry about the bison straying off the reservation. Even if the animals tested negative for brucellosis, they carry the stigma of originating from a diseased population in Yellowstone National Park.

Ranchers say just having the bison near their operations could make it hard to market beef from the area.

But the Montana Department of Livestock isn't opposed to the plan since the bison have tested negative for brucellosis for three years.

"As far as the Department of Livestock is concerned, we're not going to let untested bison go anywhere," said Steve Merritt, the department's spokesman. "This has been part of the plan for quite some time. It's part of the interagency bison management plan. It's part of the plan of the quarantine facility. We have a high degree of confidence in the testing regime."

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Date: 1/14/09

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