BILLINGS — The federal government is considering moving dozens of bison captured outside Yellowstone National Park to federal lands in South Dakota, Colorado and elsewhere, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, Salazar told Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer that federal officials are looking at all options for moving Yellowstone bison onto federally managed lands.
That includes Badlands National Park on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.
However, Schweitzer issued an order Tuesday blocking any fish and wildlife shipments by the Interior Department in Montana. The governor wants the bison to go to the National Bison Range in western Montana.
The relocations are part of efforts to avoid the periodic slaughter of bison leaving the park in search of food — an annual migration that some cattle ranchers say raises the chance of livestock being infected by diseased bison.
"I want to work with you to manage bison numbers and reduce disease prevalence in the Yellowstone herd," Salazar wrote to Schweitzer. "While the Department of Interior alone cannot resolve this issue, I am willing to look at options of moving Yellowstone bison onto other DOI properties."
It was not immediately clear if Schweitzer issued his order blocking wildlife shipments before or after seeing the Salazar letter.
The Democratic governor did not mention the letter Tuesday. He said he was concerned in part that the Interior Department's past actions have allowed animal diseases such as brucellosis and chronic wasting disease to spread across the region.
Interior officials earlier this month rebuffed a proposal from Schweitzer to relocate dozens of bison captured from Yellowstone onto the bison range near Moiese. The agency cited worries over brucellosis despite repeated tests on the Yellowstone animals to ensure they were disease-free.
Salazar indicated in his letter that the transfer of bison to Moiese had not been ruled out, but an evaluation of such a move would not be completed in the upcoming winter season, when bison often migrate out of Yellowstone in large numbers seeking food at lower elevations.
In the past, thousands of those migrating animals have been captured and shipped to slaughter to guard against livestock being infected by brucellosis, which can cause pregnant animals to miscarry. Schweitzer has also clashed with Salazar's agency over another of the governor's proposals that has so far been rejected — allowing hunting of bison inside the park.