Montana state livestock officials on Tuesday again declined to act on a plan to give wild bison from Yellowstone National Park more room to roam in parts of the state, leaving the future of the proposal in doubt.
Montana Board of Livestock members voted unanimously to indefinitely postpone action on a proposal from the state that would ease restrictions on Yellowstone bison that enter Montana.
"Just because we put a boundary on a piece of paper doesn't mean the bison know that," board member John Scully said.
He and board member Linda Nelson said the proposal should be given to the governor to handle.
The board rejected an earlier proposal to increase tolerance for the animals, saying they couldn't back the idea unless the park's bison population is reduced to roughly 3,000. Although that number was given in Tuesday's proposal, the board chose not to act. Under the proposal, bison could roam outside Yellowstone year-round only if their population were reduced to that level.
"The state is not going to provide tolerance until the populations is 3,000 or less," Montana Department of Livestock executive director Christian Mackay told the board.
Current estimates show that about 4,000 bison live in the park, state officials said.
Bison, also known as buffalo, were long prohibited in areas outside the park because of concerns the animals would spread disease to livestock. Under a 2000 agreement between the state and federal officials, thousands of bison have been killed attempting to leave the park.
Government policies dictating the capture and slaughter of bison entering Montana were loosened under former Gov. Brian Schweitzer. But resistance to further change runs strong within the livestock industry because of fears about the disease brucellosis.
Brucellosis can cause pregnant animals to prematurely abort. It has been widely eradicated in livestock but persists in elk, bison and other wildlife in and around Yellowstone National Park.
Sen. Taylor Brown, R-Huntley, who is a rancher and cattle owner, said the proposal lacked detail on how the state would manage the bison population, and he noted their exposure to brucellosis. "I urge you to remember who you represent," he told the board.
Steve Forest from Defenders of Wildlife said allowing more than 3,000 bison to roam in a larger area would have been appropriate. "It's difficult to work with a board that's stuck in the last century," he said.
The proposed roaming area includes 400,000 acres west and north of the park in the areas of Hebgen Lake Basin and the Taylor Fork of the Gallatin River.
Forest said he hopes state officials will find a way to make the proposal a reality.
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