April 12, 2012 in Region

Discouraging words for roaming bison

Judge rules no animals can be moved in Montana for 30 days
Associated Press photo

Bison recently relocated from Yellowstone National Park roam in a holding area on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeast Montana.
(Full-size photo)

CHINOOK, Mont. – Wild bison transported last month from Yellowstone National Park will remain at northeastern Montana’s Fort Peck Indian Reservation, but a judge ruled Wednesday that no additional bison can be transferred in the state for at least 30 days.

Montana District Judge John McKeon upheld a restraining order barring further bison relocations after an eight-hour hearing challenging the state’s return of the animals to tribal lands.

More than 60 bison from Yellowstone National Park were relocated to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in March. Half of those bison are slated to be transferred to the Fort Belknap Reservation, but property rights groups, ranchers and some state lawmakers have filed a lawsuit in opposition to the move.

They say bison could spread disease, knock down fences and eat hay meant for cattle.

Before the hearing began, the plaintiffs withdrew a request to send the bison at Fort Peck back to a quarantine facility near Yellowstone National Park.

The Havre Daily News reported that McKeon will come to a final decision on future bison relocations in the next 30 days, and until then a restraining order on additional transfers will remain in place.

Cory Swanson, the ranchers’ attorney, said he was encouraged by the ruling.

“The fact that he has taken 30 days to carefully consider this is great,” Swanson said. “We’re happy that for the next 30 days we are safe.”

Defense attorney Timothy Preso of Bozeman-based environmental law firm Earthjustice said that the judge’s decision was not a surprise.

“He’s basically maintaining the status quo until he makes his final decision,” Preso said.

The landowners say that state Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials violated a law passed last year that required FWP to come up with a bison management plan before relocating bison.

The defense responded that FWP drafted agreements with the tribes, which are sovereign nations, so that law did not apply.

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