Tibe Propose Quarantining Bison

MONDAY, FEB. 13, 1995

Quarantine first, shoot and kill later.

That is an alternative plan proposed by a coalition of 35 Indian tribes that wants to quarantine bison that stray from Yellowstone National Park so scientists can check to see if they are infected with brucellosis.

Brucellosis is a bacteriological disease that infects cattle, elk and bison and can cause abortion of calves.

Infected bison would be killed after the tribes gave appropriate ceremonies and the meat would be given to the Indians. The plan is a revision of an earlier Indian plan, but changes in federal policy would need to be made if this most recent idea is to work, officials say.

Nearly 300 bison have been shot since September of 1994 and the InterTribal Bison Cooperative hopes they can make their alternative plan viable this time. Officials estimate there are 4,200 bison in the park.

Animals that are found to be free of diseases would be turned over to tribes for their own herds.

The tribal plan was met with some cautious initial support from state veterinarians from Montana and Wyoming.

And the tribal plan would require administrative approval from several federal and state agencies, including the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Mark Heckert, executive director of the tribal bison group, said the inspection service would have to change its policy that forbids transportation of animals into or through any state certified as “brucellosis-free.”

Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are brucellosis-free states.

Heckert said the tribal plan would require about $2.5 million in the first year and about a half a million dollars each year after that. Sources of money could be federal or tribal funds or donations from groups as diverse as ranchers to environmentalists.

Clarence Siroky, Montana’s state veterinarian, said the tribe’s proposal could be successful and may eliminate what he sees as the necessity of wholesale slaughter of all bison leaving the park.

Opponents of the Montana policy say there is no documented case of the transmission of brucellosis from wildlife to domestic livestock.


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