The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes are gearing up to welcome 139 Yellowstone bison home to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana.
The animals had been quarantined on CNN founder Ted Turner’s ranch while they were proven to be free of the cattle disease brucellosis. About half of Yellowstone’s 4,000–5,000 bison carry the disease, which causes miscarriages in cattle. However, there has never been a known case of transmission from bison to livestock.
It’s an outgrowth of a plan released by the U.S. Department of the Interior in June to work with tribes, states, landowners, conservation groups and other stakeholders to restore the bison population so it could serve at least a semblance of the ecological and cultural role that once played.
A number of factors contributed to the decision to bring the bison to Fort Peck instead of donating them to zoos in New York City and elsewhere, according to Reuters. Misgivings of ranchers who thought the bison would break through their fencing and compete with cattle for grazing land proved unfounded, as the tribes have successfully managed a herd of 63 Yellowstone bison received in 2012, Reuters reported.
In keeping with that management, the bison will spend their first 10 days in a 140-acre pen, Fort Peck Fish and Game Director Robert Magnan told the Associated Press. After that they will share the 13,000-acre pasture where the previous herd, which according to AP numbers 48, resides. About three dozen bison were transferred to Fort Belknap in August 2013 to establish a herd there, the Great Falls Tribune reported.
“We are welcoming the buffalo back to their native lands,” Magnan told Reuters of the new shipment to Fort Peck, which was due to arrive on Thursday November 13. “It is a homecoming.”
Tom Escarcega, one of the tribal leaders accompanying the bison on their journey overnight on Wednesday, said the animals would be “welcomed with prayers," according to AP.
"In our culture, we treat the buffalo as a people, and we're the two-legged nation,” he said. “They deserve respect."