Bison

The spread of brucellosis is perceived as the main problem preventing bison from being outside Yellowstone National Park year-round. Eliminating the disease is an obvious solution but an impossible one, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher said.

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Tribes are asking Montana’s governor to veto bills that harm migrating bison or keep bison from moving out of Yellowstone National Park.

In a resolution released this weekend, the Montana and Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council also asked the Montana Legislature to write laws ensuring the state’s cooperation with tribes on the preservation and restoration of wild bison.

“Why can’t Gov. (Steve) Bullock pardon the buffalo that remain imprisoned in Yellowstone?” said Blackfeet spiritual leader James St. Goddard.

St. Goddard said he helped craft the resolution after Jodi Gillette, President Barack Obama’s adviser for Native American Affairs, asked the tribes to speak out on bison issues.

The resolution emphasizes the fact that elk have been responsible for all brucellosis outbreaks in cattle, so the disease should not be used to contain bison in the park.

Eight bills this session have sought to impose more harsh bison management laws.

House Bill 396 was sent to Bullock’s desk Friday, but he has yet to act on it. It would require the approval of county commissioners before bison could be transplanted into their county.

Bullock spokeswoman Judy Beck said she could not say anything about the governor’s intentions related to bison bills.

“Out of respect for the legislative process, we haven’t been commenting on bills before the governor signs or vetoes,” Beck said.

The tribes object to HB 396 because it gives commissioners power over the reservations in their counties.

Elizabeth Azure of the Fort Belknap Reservation said the Blaine County commissioners usually defend farmers’ interests, so they probably would block bison transplants.

On Friday, the Montana Supreme Court heard a challenge to an injunction that stopped the Fort Peck reservation from moving bison to the Fort Belknap reservation last year. Attorneys said the judge considered private landowners but failed to include the tribes.

Five other bison bills have died, and two are still working their way through the Legislature.

On Wednesday, Senate Bill 143, sponsored by Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, failed in a 50-50 House vote. SB 143 would have required the immediate slaughter or removal of bison that stray outside the park and allows landowners to shoot bison that come on their land.

“Brenden said the cow is the holy one and the bison is the heathen,” St. Goddard said. “That is what we’re fighting.”

Brenden told the, Chronicle that the defeat of his bill was going to cost the tribes, hunters and “liberal left-wing groups.”

“This encroaches on private property, and we’re going to fight it every inch of the way,” Brenden said. “How would you like it if I release bison in your area?”

Robert Magnan, Fort Peck fish and wildlife director, said Fort Peck is in Brenden’s district, but the senator has never consulted with the tribe on this or any previous wildlife bill.

“Not one sponsor of these anti-bison bills has ever made an attempt to ask tribes their views,” Magnan said. “A simple phone call would be a good start.”

Brenden said he didn’t talk to the tribes because they didn’t talk to him when they moved 68 bison to the reservation last year.

“They’re not listening to us, and it’s going to cost them because they’ll find there’s no access,” Brenden said.

Senate Bill 256, which would make FWP liable for bison damage, and Senate Bill 305, which would limit what qualifies as wild bison, gained House amendments that have been rejected by the Senate. Agreements must be hammered out if the bills are to pass.

The resolution also asks the Secretary of the Interior to initiate a moratorium on capturing bison inside the park and convene a bison summit within 90 days.

It also asks the U.S. Forest Service to designate year-round bison habitat in Montana.

The tribes issued a similar resolution this time last year condemning the spring bison hazing around the park.

The Interagency Bison Management Plan added the tribes as partners in 2009.

Laura Lundquist can be reached at 582-2638 or llundquist@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter at @llundquist.

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