Northern Arapaho Tribe’s plan to import Yellowstone bison ‘up in the air’
Cody – Although the Northern Arapaho tribe’s effort to move Yellowstone bison onto the Wind River Indian Reservation hasn’t moved ahead as quickly as they hoped, Wyoming Assistant State Veterinarian Jim Logan says they are still moving forward with the plan.
At the April 16 meeting of the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team Logan gave an update on where the situation now sits.
“The Arapaho tribe and two others had applied with APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) to receive the bison from a brucellosis quarantine facility, and the Arapaho were the only tribe deemed ‘ready’ to take bison,” said Logan. “Legally, the tribe can go anyplace and buy bison free of brucellosis and import them as long as they meet the Wyoming Livestock Board’s (WLSB) import requirements.”
He said part of the hang-up has been APHIS requirements on bison coming from the quarantine facility, relating to fencing, commingling, testing, etc.
The tribe intends to pasture the bison on what’s known as Grazing Unit 32, a 32,000-acre fenced pasture near Boysen Peak on the west side of the Wind River Canyon. Currently the pasture does not have adequate fencing for bison.
“Their contingency plan was to make an arrangement with the Red Canyon Ranch northwest of Thermopolis that’s already set up for bison, and we took a tour of that and it looked good and at that point everything looked like it was a go,” said Logan.
However, that deal fell trough. In the meantime, the tribe has talked with owners of another ranch near the Red Canyon Ranch. “The latest information I have is they are in the process of fencing on that ranch to make it compatible with the bison requirements,” noted Logan.
In regard to concern about the 30 percent seroprevalence rate in elk on the reservation, Logan said the elk are quite a bit west of where the bison will be. “Game and Fish personnel say it’s very rare the elk from the Dubois area would ever go near where the bison would be pastured,” he said.
Before the bison are moved Logan said MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding) must first be signed between the Northern Arapaho and APHIS and the tribe and the WLSB. Currently the MOU between the tribe and the WLSB is in the hands of the tribe’s attorney.
“The concern of the WLSB, and the majority of producers in the area, isn’t a disease issue,” said Logan. “We’re pretty satisfied they’re clean, but we’re concerned from a management standpoint. We want to make sure the bison are adequately contained and don’t pose a threat, disease or otherwise, to wildlife and livestock interests in the area.”
In the MOU, Logan said the most pertinent item out of nine management points is that the bison will be considered livestock. “In the MOU they’re required to be maintained on tribal properties, and if they escape they’re subject to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Chapter 41 rules, which gives the WLSB authority to lethally remove them. That would be something we could fall back on.”
Although the tribe’s original plan was to move the bison to Wyoming in early April, now they’ve begun calving. “At this point the whole thing’s up in the air,” said Logan. “We will probably try to tour the new place to see the progress sometime in the last week of April.”
“The Livestock Board is not trying to facilitate this thing – we’re an interested party,” said Logan. “We’re trying, if this occurs, through the use of an MOU to have some ability to protect livestock producers in the area.”
Interested parties will meet to discuss the proposed project at 7 p.m. April 30 in Thermopolis at Big Horn Federal. The Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Hot Springs Conservation District and the Wyoming Livestock Board will sponsor the meeting. David Stoner of the Arapaho Ranch will be present, as will the fencing contractor.
Producers from the allotment on the south side of the mountain have already met, and he said they’re “very concerned about the proposition.”
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.