Oh, Give Me a Home: Bison Relocation Controversy


"Bison Lane" photo by V Man via Flickr
Eco-baron and media mogul Ted Turner has placed a bid to "borrow" 74 wild bison from Yellowstone National Park at the request of Montana's Governor Brian Schweitzer. But opposing forces to the plan claim the animals are being used for private profit instead of conservation, in violation of promises made. Should they stay or should they go? The herd of bison, prized for genetic purity, are currently in disease quarantine just outside Yellowstone National Park as part of a 5-year program to divert some park bison from periodic slaughter, an effort at preventing the spread of brucellosis to cattle. Relocation is necessary to make room for a round of 80 more quarantined bison.


Bison and baby--headed to Ted's Montana Grill? Photo by Tambako via Flickr

Turner proposes holding the bison for five years and then returning them to Montana. As compensation, he'll keep 90 percent of the animals' offspring, estimated at a potential of 190 bison.

A group of conservationists, some federal officials and representatives of Indian tribes have protested the arrangement. Last week at a public hearing over Turner's offer, objections stated the endangered bison should remain on public or tribal lands, based on promises by state and federal officials. "You're not being true to your commitment not to commercialize these animals," said Glenn Hockett with the Gallatin Wildlife Association, citing a 2006 quarantine decision that "the bison will remain wild and noncommercial."

Since relocation attempts of these quarantined bison previously failed, state officials warned they could face slaughter soon. Enter Ted's Captain Planet to the rescue? Russell Miller with Turner Enterprises said keeping most of their offspring would help offset the cost of keeping animals for the state for five years. "We thought there was an emergency," he said, describing the company's plan as a blend of conservation and commercialization.


Non-quarantined bison roaming free in Yellowstone. Photo by Einarfour via Flickr

No telling what Turner will do with the offspring--let the bison roam his vast landholdings as they once did, to harvest grasses, till the soil with their hooves, and fertilize the ground? Mind you, his restaurant, Ted's Montana Grill, serves bison burgers. Though the logo is a big bison, the green eatery is plastic-free with an "Eat great. Do Good" tagline. Some also believe grass-fed bison is an earth-friendly meat to eat. Is this the real objection?

The debate ends January 12 when Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks decide the bisons' fate come March when they must move. The US Department of Agriculture is trying to assure everyone that slaughter isn't imminent -- the bison could remain in quarantine longer. The question seems to be where.

More on bison:
First Bison Calves in 150 Years Born on Native Iowa Prairie
Wildlife Land Management Needs Sustainable Vision to Control Disease Outbreaks
In Defense of the Cow: How Eating Meat Could Help Slow Climate Change

Tags: Conservation | Diseases | Endangered Species | Montana