BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Billionaire Ted Turner is getting 88 Yellowstone National Park bison from a faltering Montana program that was supposed to put the disease-free animals on public or tribal lands.
The animals were spared several years ago from a periodic slaughter of bison leaving Yellowstone because of worries about animal disease.
They are now in a joint federal-state quarantine compound in southern Montana’s Paradise Valley but could be moved to Turner’s ranch within weeks, state officials said Tuesday.
Montana turned down requests from a Wyoming state park and at least two American Indian reservations that said they wanted some or all of the bison.
Turner will care for the animals for five years and in return wants 75 percent of their offspring, an estimated 188 bison. He already owns more than 50,000 bison but wants the Yellowstone animals because of their pure genetics.
Montana would get an estimated 150 bison back.
Conservation groups, a group of tribes and U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarians had criticized the proposal because it privatizes public wildlife.
“There were a lot of people that wanted them on public lands. We’re not ready,” said Montana wildlife chief David Risley. “The Turner option, all it does is buy us time to come up with a long term solution.”
Guernsey State Park in Wyoming had sought 14 of the animals. Tribes on Montana’s Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and Fort Peck Indian Reservation also asked for some of the bison but were denied.
Turner had said that if some of the animals went to Wyoming, Montana would get fewer bison back because he needs a certain number to justify his expenses.
The bison will be kept on 12,000 acres on Turner’s Flying D Ranch south of Bozeman.
The ranch already has about 4,500 commercial bison and thousands of elk that are hunted by paying clients and some members of the public.
Turner’s representatives said the Yellowstone bison are too valuable to hunt and will be mixed in with a herd being conserved on another ranch he owns in New Mexico.