From: Associated Press
Published March 13, 2006 12:00 AM

Groups Hope to Expand Montana Bison Numbers

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — Organizations working to build a bison population south of Malta say five of the 16 animals already placed there are pregnant, and there are plans to put at least 16 more bison on the land this fall.

Some nearby livestock producers concerned bison may roam and transmit disease are apprehensive about having the herd nearby, but organizers of the bison project say its animals have not moved beyond fenced boundaries.

The American Prairie Foundation strung together about 31,000 acres of leased and deeded property and placed the 16 bison on some of that land in October. The foundation receives technical assistance from the World Wildlife Fund.

The groups envision an eventual 3.5 million-acre, public and private prairie reserve with prairie dog towns and black-footed ferrets as well as bison. Last week, bison were released from a 60-acre holding pasture and allowed to roam on about 500 acres.

"It's so far, so good," said Curt Freese, a World Wildlife Fund administrator. "The next big thing is waiting for late April or early May to have calves born."

A three-strand, electric fence confines the bison, he said.

Rancher Dale Veseth said the existing bison comprise "a very small bunch. I think our big test will be when they have several hundred head." Veseth said the bison are "under substantially more fencing than they ultimately might be when they are spread out on the range."

He is a member of the Southern Phillips County Ranchers Stewardship Alliance, which negotiated a memorandum of understanding with the World Wildlife Fund and American Prairie Foundation, outlining how the herd shall be overseen. A ranch manager monitors the mix of bulls, cows and calves.

The bison, brought from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, have been found free of brucellosis, a disease that can cause abortions in cattle. Brucellosis exists among bison in Yellowstone National Park and is a key concern in the debate about managing Yellowstone bison that wander into Montana.

Some landowners are appealing a U.S. Bureau of Land Management decision to change the American Prairie Foundation property's livestock classification from cattle to bison. The bison may remain while the appeal is pending, said Rich Adams, a BLM assistant field manager.

A permit now in hand allows the American Prairie Foundation to have about 100 head.

Source: Associated Press

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