The Hi-Line residents and ranchers who are upset with the state’s moving of wild bison up north have a number of concerns about the bison that they would like to see addressed.
The main concern among the ranchers in the crowd, not necessarily on the witness stand, is the fact that these are wild bison, rather than commercial livestock.
According to several of Wednesday’s hearing attendees, the fact that these bison come from the wild means that they are both more likely to carry brucellosis, even though USDA veterinarians are “super-confident” that these bison are brucellosis-free, and better protected by state law.
The one rancher called to the witness stand on Wednesday was Chinook resident and Blaine County rancher Curt McCann.
McCann told the court about his experience dealing with 40 years of regular bison escapes from the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation onto adjacent land he helps ranch.
Friends and supporters of McCann said later that current escapes are a pain, but not compared to what it would be if the bison were classified as wildlife, like these new bison are.
As wildlife, these ranchers said that they are not allowed to try and capture the wild bison. They just have to sit and watch the bison damage their property.
Timothy Preso, one of the defendants’ attorneys from Bozeman-based environmental law firm Earthjustice, said that new agreements would provide more protections.
The first protection would be guaranteed action to recover an escaped animal within 72 hours.
Any damages caused in an escape would have to be repaid by the tribe that is responsible in a reasonable amount of time, he said.
If a bison escapes more than three times, then FWP would be able to take all of the bison away from the tribe.
Another concern that was never mentioned in the courtroom, but worried a few of the hearing attendees, was a clause on the webpage for the Interagency Bison Management Plan that was crafted in 2000 and started this debate.
The end of the second paragraph describing the plan says, “Bison that test positive for brucellosis, however, are sent to slaughter with the meat and hides donated to Montana Indian tribes and food banks. ”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show on its website that brucellosis can be transmitted to humans through inhalation, transfer through a cut or open wound or by eating meat or milk from an infected animal.
The disease in humans “can cause a range of symptoms that are similar to the flu and may include fever, sweats, headaches, back pains, and physical weakness. Severe infections of the central nervous systems or lining of the heart may occur. Brucellosis can also cause long-lasting or chronic symptoms that include recurrent fevers, joint pain, and fatigue. ”
It is not very common, only 100 or 200 cases reported per year, but “treatment can be difficult. Doctors can prescribe effective antibiotics. … Depending on the timing of treatment and severity of illness, recovery may take a few weeks to several months. Mortality is low (less than 2 percent), and is usually associated with endocarditis. ”