HELENA – Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes officials said a deal has been reached with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that would allow the transport of five bull bison from the Yellowstone ecosystem to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
However, the move has been delayed indefinitely due to the federal government shutdown. The deal between the Tribal Council and the USDA was made just before the federal shutdown.
One of the steps in the finalization process is getting a sign-off from Montana State Veterinarian Marty Zaluski since the animals come from a habitat where brucellosis is present.
Brucellosis is a regulated infection disease that most commonly affects the reproduction of animals and can cause late-term abortions. The disease is highly contagious and can infect bison, elk, cattle, and even humans.
Because of the potential risk of spreading to humans and livestock, Montana has strict protocols in regards to brucellosis.
“One of my primary jobs as State Veterinarian is to limit disease spread,” said Zaluski. “When that disease transmission into livestock takes place, there’s concerns about continuing to sell our cattle to export markets.”
The bull bison, along with dozens more, have been in a years-long quarantine process as part of an effort to ship the animals to native communities rather than slaughtering them.
“The bull bison have been tested multiple times and at this time they are considered brucellosis-free making them eligible for relocation from the containment facility north of Yellowstone National Park,” said Zaluski.
Zaluski said he doesn’t see any issues with the transfer given the animals repeatedly tested negative for the disease – but he has yet to receive the final document from the USDA.
“I have seen what we call a memorandum of understanding but because of the government shutdown, I haven’t received any of the paperwork from USDA or any other federal agency for the time being,” noted Zaluski. “So we’re waiting for that document to reach our desks so those bison can move.”
Fort Peck Department of Fish and Game Director Robert Magnan believes that once the paperwork is approved it should be a relatively quick process to move the animals to the reservation.
Magnan would ideally like to see the animals by February but noted it’s all dependent on when the federal government reopens.
-John Riley reporting for MTN News