BILLINGS — Montana's governor said Monday he will not block the relocation of 68 bison to two American Indian reservations.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer last week declared that no Yellowstone National Park bison could be moved within Montana. He cited mixed messages from the federal government on whether some quarantined bison could harbor the disease brucellosis.
But Schweitzer said Monday the relocations can move forward because an Interior Department researcher said he believes the animals do not have the disease.
Tribal leaders had criticized the Democratic governor's earlier stance, saying he was using the tribes as pawns in his dispute with federal officials. They worried that could jeopardize their efforts to establish new herds of genetically pure animals from Yellowstone.
Schweitzer said he will continue to block shipments of any bison other than the quarantined animals. He wants Yellowstone to consider hunting inside the park to keep the animal's population in check.
"The park has been unrealistic in how they deal with this issue," he said.
State officials last week had announced a plan to relocate the 68 bison to Montana's Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations sometime this winter. The animals have been tested repeatedly for brucellosis and are being held in a fenced compound in Corwin Springs, under a joint state-federal program to determine if Yellowstone bison are suitable for relocation.
Another 143 Yellowstone bison that already have been through the quarantine are being held on a ranch near Bozeman owned by media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner. Schweitzer wanted some of those animals relocated onto the 18,500-acre National Bison Range run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — an idea the government rejected.