Circ activation contest

State Supreme Court says bison transfer legal

2013-06-20T00:00:00Z State Supreme Court says bison transfer legalThe Associated Press The Associated Press
June 20, 2013 12:00 am  • 

BILLINGS — The relocation of Yellowstone National Park bison to tribal lands in Montana can resume under a Wednesday ruling from the state’s Supreme Court that revives a stalled conservation initiative for the animals.

Bison, also known as buffalo, once numbered in the tens of millions across North America before overhunting drove them to near-extinction. Government-sponsored efforts in Montana have the potential to return the burly animals to parts of their historic range, but had been on hold since last year.

That’s when a lower court sided with ranchers and property rights advocates, who sued to block further transfers of the animals after Montana wildlife officials moved more than 60 bison to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Critics said the move was illegal under state law. They argued wild bison damage fences, eat hay meant for cattle and potentially could spread animal diseases to livestock.

In March 2012, state district Judge John McKeon sided with plaintiffs and issued an order blocking future transfers of Yellowstone bison. The move effectively halted the restoration program.

In Wednesday’s ruling, state high court justices came down on the side of the state, which had argued that the law in question did not apply to tribal lands.

Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote in a 16-page opinion that the relocation program was a “reasoned and viable” alternative to past practices involving Yellowstone bison. Those have included the wholesale slaughter of thousands of bison in the name of disease control when the animals crossed into Montana during their winter migrations.

A representative of the plaintiffs said the ruling guts the Montana Legislature’s attempt last session to allow public input into the bison relocation process. Chuck Denowh with United Property Owners of Montana said the group is not strictly opposed to relocating bison but wants to inject transparency into the process.

Last year’s relocation, during the administration of former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, came with little prior notice.

An attorney for conservation groups that intervened on behalf of the state said the ruling most immediately allows for the transfer of several dozen bison to the Fort Belknap Reservation.

The animals once played a central role in American Indian life, providing meat for food, and pelts for clothing and shelter. They also feature prominently in many Native American religious ceremonies.

Robert Magnan, Fish and Game director for the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, said he hoped Wednesday’s ruling will allow the tribe to increase the size of its small bison herd to several hundred animals. The best prospect for that is to get some of the park’s animals now being held on the state’s behalf at a private ranch owned by media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner near Bozeman.

The bison spent several years in quarantine just outside the park, to make sure they were free of brucellosis. The disease can cause infected cattle to abort their young.

“It’s a good, positive way of moving buffalo, not only to tribal lands, but there are other places in Montana that would be ideal,” he said.

For the tribes, bison meat provides a healthier source of protein than beef, Magnan added. That could help reduce high rates of obesity and diabetes on reservations, he said.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Ron Aasheim said future bison transfers to tribal lands will occur only if the receiving reservation has signed a legal agreement with the state. The document would cover issues including fencing, disease testing and established protocols in the event animals escape.

Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife Director Mark Azure said negotiations with the state over such an agreement will resume this week.

Additional relocations to non-tribal lands would not take place until the agency completes a pending long-range bison management strategy. That statewide plan is due by the end of 2015, Aasheim said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. marboconwy
    Report Abuse
    marboconwy - June 20, 2013 7:56 pm
    These Bison were transferred from Yellowstone. Are in quareintine and soon to be released to ancient territory they know. With proper over site back on there native range, we could all benifit from this animal once more.

    In the 1800's millions were slaughtered, to remove them from the life giving they provided the native Americans. There are plenty of bone pile pictures in Glasgow/highline bars and other History facts should one really want.to do research.

    To put in print that these critters were HUNTED to near extinction. To me requires an apology from this reporter, who does not know the true history..... Moccaisan
  2. bearpaws
    Report Abuse
    bearpaws - June 20, 2013 5:44 pm
    Oh and then there were all the vague bills in the state legislature...let's see, are they livestock or are they wildlife? Do they belong to Montana when they are in Montana and when they cross into Wyoming do they belong to Wyoming...no wait, it's Yellowstone NATIONAL park. I suppose if we continue to call all wildlife public "property" then we'll never make up our minds. I dunno, what about rats?
  3. GreatWhite
    Report Abuse
    GreatWhite - June 20, 2013 1:06 pm
    They are being moved to Tribal Lands...not subject to state laws. I'm not really sure there is an 'ownership transfer' issue here. They just want to preserve purer Bison in the wild. And this seems to be the only way that this is going to happen initially.

    I think it's good to start placing them back in their native areas.
  4. otis mule
    Report Abuse
    otis mule - June 20, 2013 7:24 am
    I can't imagine how this could be legal unless the plaintiffs failed to raise the proper argument. It is my understanding that the bison were the property of the State of Montana. State law is very clear here. The citizens of Montana MUST receive fair market value when property is transferred from the State's ownership to any other entity.

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