Bison transferred from Yellowstone to Fort Peck Indian Reservation

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, WY – On Wednesday, January 12, the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation completed the transfer of 28 Yellowstone bison at the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Poplar, Montana, as part of the bison conservation translocation program. All bison have completed Phases I and II of the brucellosis quarantine protocol at Yellowstone National Park and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) facilities and will complete assurance testing (Phase III) at Fort Peck (see information below for protocol details).

The National Park Service (NPS), APHIS, the State of Montana, and the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes initiated the Bison Conservation Transfer Program to identify brucellosis-free bison and transfer them to new areas in the instead of sending them to the slaughterhouse. The program has led to the largest transfer of live Yellowstone bison among Native American tribes in history. Since 2019, 182 bison have gone to the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Of these, 82 animals were transferred to the InterTribal Buffalo Council which distributed them to 18 tribes in 10 states.

The bison transferred this week were captured at Stephens Creek in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park in March 2020. Twenty males completed quarantine at the park and a small family group of eight (1 male, 4 females, 3 calves) completed quarantine at the nearby APHIS leased facility in Corwin Springs. Currently, 67 animals remain in the Bison Conservation Transfer Program and the park and APHIS intend to enroll 80 to 120 new animals in the program this winter.

This transfer is the result of the collaboration of many partners: Yellowstone National Park, Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, APHIS, Montana Department of Livestock (DOL), State of Montana, InterTribal Buffalo Council, Yellowstone Forever, Defenders of Wildlife and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

To expand the program, Yellowstone has partnered with Yellowstone Forever and the greatest Yellowstone Coalition to increase the capacity of the facility in the park from 80 to 200 animals. The improvements will be completed this winter. These improvements and continued coordination with APHIS will result in the transfer of approximately 100 animals per year to Tribal Nations as an alternative to slaughter.

General quarantine information

Quarantine was identified as a possible tactic for bison management in 2001 when the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) was signed by the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture and the Governor of Montana. The National Park Service officially pursued a quarantine program in 2014 by initiating a public planning process. The operational quarantine program was approved in May 2018.

APHIS and DOL established final structural specifications and biosecurity requirements for quarantine facilities in June 2017. The only facilities that currently meet these specifications are located at Stephens Creek in Yellowstone National Park, Corwin Springs in Montana and the Fort Peck Preserve.

APHIS developed the quarantine protocols in October 2003 and validated them during the period 2005-2010. Quarantine has three phases:

  • Phase I – Managers capture bison in or near the park during the winter. Bison deemed fit for quarantine based on initial negative brucellosis tests are isolated in double-fenced quarantine pastures and tested every 30 to 45 days until all bison are negative for two periods of consecutive tests.
  • Phase II – Bison in these individual test groups are tested for brucellosis based on the age and sex requirements outlined in the 2003 Brucellosis Eradication: Uniform Methods and Rules (APHIS 91–45–013) and are certified brucellosis-free.
  • Phase III – Managers may transfer bison to other fenced pastures. In the new location, brucellosis screening is done at six and 12 months to provide additional reassurance. Managers keep these bison separated from other animals at least until the six-month test is complete. Thereafter, managers may release these bison on public or tribal lands for conservation and cultural purposes.

Nohemi M. Moore