US agency to Check at bringing back bison on Montana refuge

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U.S. officials say they will consider in coming years whether to reintroduce wild bison to a million-acre national wildlife refuge in central Montana

BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. officials said they will consider in coming years whether to reintroduce wild bison into a million-acre (400,000-hectare) national wildlife refuge in central Montana, a movement that would be at odds with Republicans in the state who wish to restrict in which bison can roam.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans starting in July”to engage Tribes and stakeholders to the subjects of bison and bighorn sheep reintroductions” about the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, a remote landscape of badlands and prairie bisected by the Missouri River, according to an Interior Department statement.

Bison historically roamed the region but had been wiped out over most of North America from overhunting in the late 19th century. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have sought to make it more challenging to reintroduce bison to new places.

Many ranchers in the state, such as around the sanctuary, oppose attempts to restore bison to the landscape, fearing they could compete with livestock for people grazing space and spread the disease brucellosis. That’s an infectious disease carried by Yellowstone National Park bison that may lead to creatures to prematurely abort their young.

Gianforte last week declared the cancellation of a country bison management program which would have made it easier to reintroduce the creatures. His administration settled a lawsuit with a property rights group that asserted that then-Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, had been scheming to establish a free-roaming herd in the Charles M. Russell refuge, known for the western performer whose work caught the area’s rugged beauty.

A set of Native American state lawmakers on Tuesday requested the Biden government to craft a strategy to reintroduce bison to the refuge and on public lands adjacent to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, including Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountain Front.

Rep. Tyson Running Wolf, a Blackfeet manhood from Browning, said it was”awesome” which bison could be considered for its refuge. He urged the administration to also look at bison for the Glacier region.

Interior Department officials provided no details on their plans beyond a statement stating the wildlife service was at the final preparation stages before launching a”multiple year” procedure to consider bison and bighorn sheep reintroductions. Other wildlife and habitat problems also would be considered.

The refuge already has bighorn sheep and it is uncertain if their inclusion by the agency refers to plans to reinforce existing inhabitants or put them into more regions.