Wednesday, August 14, 2013
An agreement signed Wednesday between Montana's wildlife agency and the Fort Belknap Indian Community allows for the translocation and multi-year care of about three dozen disease-free bison on the reservation.
With the recent Montana Supreme Court decision that validates the transfer of bison between tribal lands, up to 35 bison are set to be translocated from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation later this month. Fort Belknap officials are responsible for moving the bison.
The pending transfer will follow another round of disease testing and marking by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
The Fort Peck Reservation bison were among 61 moved last year from a quarantine facility near Gardiner, north of Yellowstone National Park. The bison - and their recent progeny - now number 76 animals and are part of a quarantine feasibility study (QFS) that began in 2004. The study aimed to create a group of bison free of the bacteria that causes brucellosis, a disease that results in miscarriages in some pregnant animals, including domestic cattle, and bison and elk.
USDA-APHIS will help Fort Peck wildlife officials conduct the additional testing on all of the Fort Peck Reservation's QFS bison on Aug. 20. While these bison have tested negative in the past, the animals being transferred to the Fort Belknap Reservation will not be moved until the results of this most recent testing have be confirmed.
The Memorandum of Understanding between Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Assiniboine & Gros Ventre Tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Community, includes commitments from the tribes to: (1) move QFS bison from the Fort Peck Reservation to the Fort Belknap Reservation; (2) to continue disease testing through April 2017; (3) properly contain QFS bison; (4) immediately respond to any QFS bison escape; (5) take sole responsibility for any damages caused by escaped QFS bison; and (6) provide Montana with disease-free QFS progeny bison for future conservation efforts. There are no infrastructure costs for FWP to pay.
The bison originally came from Yellowstone National Park's bison herd. The animals were repeatedly tested for brucellosis during three different phases of the 8-year-long study. The bison are now considered to be brucellosis-free, but follow-up testing will nonetheless continue through April 2017 on both the Fort Belknap and the Fort Peck reservations.
Fort Belknap was evaluated as a potential bison translocation site in 2010 in an environmental assessment that considered moving disease-free bison from the quarantine facility. The QFS bison will be placed in a 965-acre pasture that is separated from ones currently being grazed by cattle or the tribes' existing herd of 450 bison. Fort Belknap tribes recently completed a new fencing project around the pasture that meets the standards for containment of bison.
Tribal leaders on both reservations note that bison are a keynote species that have important biological, historical, cultural, religious, socio-economic and recreational values to their members.
The MOU is available online at fwp.mt.gov. Click "Fort Belknap Bison MOU".
FWP Fact Sheet
TRIBAL LANDS RECOMMENDED FOR QFS BISON RELOCATIONS
Fort Belknap Reservation
- Located in north-central Montana near Malta
- 675,000 acres
- Home to members of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes
- Existing tribally-owned herd of 450 bison on about 22,000 acres
- Herd is managed to support commercial businesses (fee hunting and meat processing) and to provide for tribal cultural needs
- The Quarantine Facility Study (QFS) bison would be placed on an 965-acre fenced pasture that is separated from ones being grazed by cattle or the tribes’ existing bison herd
Fort Peck Reservation
- Located northeastern Montana near Wolf Point
- 2 million acres
- Home to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes
- Existing herd of 200 bison
- Herd is managed to provide for tribal cultural needs; fee-hunting is available for non-members
- Received 61 QFS bison in March 2012
- QFS bison are on a 4,800-acre pasture, that will be expanded to 12,000 acres separate from cattle and the tribes’ existing bison herd
General Questions & Answers
1. What is the legal status of escaped bison that move off of the reservation and will FWP be responsible for them?
- QFS bison on the reservations are under the jurisdiction of each tribe.
- QFS bison that move off the reservation would be considered wildlife, under the jurisdiction of FWP.
- Other bison managed by the tribes on their reservations are considered livestock if they move off the respective reservations.
- The agreement between FWP and the tribes outlines roles and responsibilities of both parties, including expectations if bison were to exit the pastures.
- Because QFS bison would be considered wildlife if they exit, agreements include necessary authorizations for the tribe to capture, handle, or herd wildlife back to the reservation.
2. How will study bison be identified?
- Specific ear tags that currently identify the study bison will continue to be used in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
3. How is FWP certain that QFS bison are disease free?
- QFS bison were among 61 moved last year from a quarantine facility near Gardiner, north of Yellowstone National Park. All QFS bison originally came from—or are the progeny of—YNP's bison herd. The QFS began in 2004 and aimed to create a group of bison proven to be free of the bacteria that causes brucellosis, a disease that results in miscarriages in some pregnant animals, including domestic cattle, and bison and elk.
- The animals were repeatedly tested for brucellosis during three different phases of the 8-year-long study. QFS bison are now known to be brucellosis-free and they continue to test negative for the bacteria that causes brucellosis.
- Follow-up tests will to continue for five years from the date they were initially translocated from the quarantine facility to the Fort Peck Reservation in March 2012.
4. Is the translocation of QFS bison to tribal land legal based on a Montana law enacted in 2011 that requires FWP to adopt a management plan before bison are moved to "public or private lands in Montana?"
- Yes. Earlier this year a Montana Supreme Court decision validated that the transfer of QFS bison to tribal lands are not subject to the law that requires a management plan before movement. QFS bison can be legally transferred from the Fort Peck Reservation to the Fort Belknap Indian Community. Fort Belknap officials are responsible for moving the bison between tribal lands.
5. How will study bison be identified?
- Specific ear tags that currently identify the study bison will continue to be used.
6. Does the Montana Department of Livestock have any jurisdiction for bison on the reservations?
- No. Because the QFS bison completed the initial quarantine protocol, and are considered disease-free, they no longer have status as a species in need of disease management control under the DOL.
- QFS bison are considered wildlife under the jurisdiction of FWP if the bison exit reservation boundaries.
7. How will the tribes prevent intermingling of study bison with existing bison herds?
- Fort Belknap has committed to keeping QFS bison contained, and to depopulate their existing domestic herd as quickly as possible to eliminate the chance for intermingling.
8. If there is intermingling of study and commercial or existing bison, how would that affect the study?
- The MOU between FWP and Fort Belknap outlines the consequences for intermingling QFS bison with existing bison including lethal removal, quarantine, and/or testing.
- QFS bison will continue to be tested through 2017. If they were to test positive for brucellosis, which is extremely unlikely, any herds with which they intermingled would be handled per DOL regulations before they could enter the commercial markets.
9. What are the terms of the proposed MOU among FWP and the tribes?
- The specific terms of agreed to duties and responsibilities are extensive. The agreement is available online at fwp.mt.gov. Click "Fort Belknap Bison MOU General topics include agreement for the care and management of the bison and tribal commitments to: (1) move bison from the Fort Peck Reservation to the Fort Belknap Reservation; (2) continue disease testing for five years through April 2017; (3) properly contain bison, (4) immediately respond to any escapes of bison; (5) sole responsibility for any damages caused by escaped bison; and (6) provide Montana with disease-free QFS progeny bison for future conservation efforts. There are no infrastructure costs for FWP to pay associated with the recommended tribal lands.
10. How will FWP ensure MOU terms are followed?
- The MOU is designed so that FWP and Fort Belknap will work amicably toward resolution should a conflict arise. The agreement is an enforceable legal document between governments.
11. Who will supervise required brucellosis testing?
- The Fort Belknap and Fort Peck tribes will coordinate with USDA APHIS for annual testing of QFS bison through April 2017.
12. How will study bison be contained?
- Fort Belknap tribes recently completed fencing that meets the standards for containment of bison.
13. Will landowners be compensated for damages caused by escaped bison that move off reservation onto private lands?
- The Fort Belknap tribes have agreed to take full responsibility for any damages caused by escaped bison. The tribes must keep liability insurance to cover any claims during the five-year monitoring period.
14. Will the public have access to the relocated study bison?
- QFS bison will be under jurisdiction of the tribes. Public access decisions will be at their discretion. The tribes expect, however, that the bison would be available for viewing.