Yellowstone National Park is moving forward with a plan to help create new herds of wild, genetically-pure bison across the country.
Right now, if a Yellowstone bison wanders outside the park it’s often shot or sent to slaughter.
That’s because ranchers fear the animals carry a disease called brucellosis that could infect their cattle. About half of the park’s bison carry brucellosis.
However, there’s never been a documented case of a bison passing the disease onto cattle in the wild.
Still hundreds of the animals are killed each year.
“Ultimately, we want to reduce the amount of bison that are sent to slaughter,” said Yellowstone National Park spokesperson Morgan Warthin.
So park officials are moving forward with a recently-approved quarantine program. Wandering bison can now be quarantined at the park for 6 to 12 months to ensure they’re brucellosis-free.
Once cleared, those genetically pure bison can potentially be shipped off to appropriate tribal and public lands all across the U.S. to create new herds or bolster old ones.
The pro-ranching Montana Stockgrowers Association said they support a strict quarantine program for Yellowstone bison.
“There would be increased restrictions on cattle coming out of Montana,” said MSA spokesperson Kori Anderson. “With agriculture being the number one industry in Montana it could have serious effects on the state.”
Brucellosis in cattle is pretty rare and when it happens near Yellowstone it often comes from elk.
But ranching is big business in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and the fear that bison could transfer brucellosis to cattle is real.
Warthin said if agreements are reached between state, federal and tribal agencies, they hope to transfer some Yellowstone bison to Montana’s Fort Peck Indian Reservation by the end of this year.
They may have gotten them sooner but activists released a bunch of captive Yellowstone bison from a holding pen in January.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.