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Herd of Yellowstone Bison Relocated to Montana Reservation

Aug 23, 2013 03:16 PM EDT

A herd of over 30 genetically pure Yellowstone bison were transported to Fort Belknap Indian Reservation Thursday where they will begin a new life on the tribal lands.

Originally from Yellowstone National Park, the animals were transported along with roughly 30 others to Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeastern Montana in 2012 where plans to move them to Fort Belknap were put on hold after a lawsuit was filed to block any further relocation of bison within the state, according to the Great Falls TribuneThe Montana Supreme lifted the injunction in June, however, and the bison transfer resumed.

Among those against the move were ranchers who feared the bison could spread disease and compete with cattle for grazing, according to ABC News. Testing has shown the bison to be disease-free, however. Furthermore, the bison will be kept within a 1,000-acre pasture bordered by an 8-foot fence.

The relocations represent an effort to establish new bison herds in addition to reduce the slaughter of the animals that occurs periodically when they leave Yellowstone, ABC reports.

For many, however, the relocation marked a symbolic event.

Bison, said Mark Azure, who heads the tribe's bison program, "helped us, our ancestors, survive out here on the prairie. So to be able to take that next step, and return the favor, so to speak, it feels good."

Tribal Councilman Mike Fox said the tribe will use the herd as seed stock for other agencies or tribes looking to reintroduce bison on their land.

"It's a homecoming for the animals," he said, adding that the creatures "took care of us at one time and now it's time for us to take care of them."

As Jonathan Proctor, Rockies and Plains program director for Defenders of Wildlife, told Fox9: "Montana's tribes are leading the way on bison conservation and providing a new model for restoring wild bison to other parts of the Great Plains.

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