- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 11, 2009

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) | Dozens of wild bison from Yellowstone National Park would be relocated to a Montana ranch owned by billionaire Ted Turner in a recommendation announced Tuesday.

The animals were spared from a slaughter program intended to protect Montana’s cattle industry from a disease carried by many bison. The plan was to use those animals — considered disease free — to repopulate public and tribal lands across the West with free-roaming bison.

But after other offers to take the animals fell through or were judged insufficient, state and federal officials said Tuesday that Mr. Turner’s private ranch was the best option.

A smaller group of eight to 14 bison would go to Guernsey State Park in Wyoming.

Mr. Turner already owns about 50,000 domesticated bison and his restaurant chain Ted’s Montana Grill serves buffalo burgers.

Some conservationists and at least one federal agency oppose the plan to supplement Mr. Turner’s herd with Yellowstone’s genetically pure bison. It still requires approval from the director of Montana’s wildlife agency.

“Essentially you’re privatizing public wildlife,” said Ben Lamb, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation. “That’s a very bad precedent to set.”

A U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian also criticized the move, saying it went against the original intent of the bison relocation program begun in 2005.

Under the recommendation made Tuesday by officials from at least six government agencies, an estimated 70 to 75 bison would be moved in the next several months to Mr. Turner’s 113,000-acre Flying D Ranch. Russ Miller, general manager of Turner Enterprises, said the animals would be kept on a 12,000-acre parcel at the ranch.

Mr. Miller calculated that about 180 bison would be returned to Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department after a five-year study expired. The remainder would become Mr. Turner’s property.

Members of central Montana’s Fort Belknap Reservation also sought the bison, which have been held since the winter of 2005-2006 in a fenced quarantine compound north of Yellowstone.

State and federal officials said the reservation’s bid to take the animals lacked enough detail, but they promised that Fort Belknap would get first preference next year, when another batch of quarantined bison is due to be relocated.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks Administrator Ken McDonald said giving up bison to Mr. Turner’s ranch was not his preferred choice, and that his agency already is getting “a lot of backlash over the whole privatization thing.”

But he said other options had dried up. An attempt to move the animals onto Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation fell through in the spring.

“There’s a limited pool of applicants for these animals,” Mr. McDonald said.

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