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Published May 14, 2010, 11:19 AM

Annual Yellowstone bison roundup near completion

HELENA, Mont. — Montana livestock agents are on track to push several hundred bison back into Yellowstone National Park by a Saturday deadline, despite the objections of advocates who want the bison left to roam outside the park.

By: Matt Gouras, Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. — Montana livestock agents are on track to push several hundred bison back into Yellowstone National Park by a Saturday deadline, despite the objections of advocates who want the bison left to roam outside the park.

Workers are using helicopters, all-terrain vehicles and horseback riders to haze the bison, which ranchers don’t want mingling in areas where domestic cattle will be grazing this summer.

Advocates say roughly a third of the several hundred bison being pushed up to 10 miles or more are calves, some just a few days old.

The critics argue the hazing is unnecessary.

“I personally saw three babies collapse from being utterly exhausted,” Stephany Seay, spokeswoman for the Buffalo Field Campaign, said of Wednesday’s hazing. “It was a really, really hard day with absolutely no reason for these guys being out there doing this.”

But the Montana Department of Livestock said it must remove all bison from public and private lands around West Yellowstone by May 15, or about a month before domestic cattle are returned to summer grazing areas.

This year’s operation is similar to those in the past, although occasionally the agency allowed the bison to linger outside the park well past the deadline. Ranchers have filed a lawsuit seeking strict compliance with the deadline.

Steve Merritt, spokesman for the Department of Livestock, said workers facing a deadline do their best to keep young bison with their mothers.

“I do know that our guys try to account for cows and calves as much as possible in an operation like this,” he said.

The agency is looking at moving about 600 bison or more by Saturday. The agency had counted about 550 moved by the end of Wednesday’s action.

“We’re hoping that we are about done,” Merritt said.

If bison come back out, as advocates say is bound to happen, Merritt said they will be pushed back in again.

Seay, who works for a group that wants the bison to be allowed to roam outside the park on public land, said the battle is really over grass that ranchers want to use for domestic cattle — and not the disease brucellosis.

The animal disease, eradicated nationwide except for the Yellowstone region, can cause infected animals to abort their young. About half of Yellowstone’s bison test positive for exposure, although the rate of active infections is much lower.

If the disease shows up in cattle, ranchers can face costly export restrictions when trying to sell their livestock. The states surrounding Yellowstone — Montana, Idaho and Wyoming — all have suffered cattle infections over the last decade.

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