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Yellowstone bison arrive at Montana reservation

Mar 20, 2012 - The Associated Press

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- Sixty-four bison from Yellowstone National Park were shipped almost 500 miles to northeast Montana's Fort Peck Indian Reservation on Monday, under a long-stalled relocation initiative meant to repopulate parts of the West with the iconic animals.

They arrived Monday night greeted by a crowd of dozens of tribal members whose flashing cameras spooked some of the animals, while others charged straight into the holding pen. A yearling bison died during the trip, leaving 63, said Fort Peck Fish and Game Director Robert Magnan.

The transfer -- anticipated for months -- came in the middle of a snowstorm and with no prior public announcement, as state and tribal officials sought to avoid a courtroom battle with opponents worried about bison competing with cattle for grazing space.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer described the move as a major step in efforts to restore Yellowstone's genetically pure bison across a larger landscape.

"This is where we're going to establish the beachhead of genetically pure bison that will be available as their numbers grow to go to other reservations and other public lands all across the West," Schweitzer said.

Tribal and state officials signed an agreement Friday allowing the transfer to take place, Magnan said.

Caught off guard were landowners and property rights groups that opposed the relocation. They filed a request for a temporary restraining order Monday afternoon to halt the move.

Helena attorney Cory Swanson said moving the animals without public notice following years of controversy amounted to a "sneak attack."

After state District Judge John McKeon in Glasgow did not rule on the request by the close of business Monday, Swanson said he would return Tuesday with a request for the animals to be ordered back to the Yellowstone area.

Fort Peck Chairman Floyd Azure responded Monday night by saying that the state has no jurisdiction now that the bison are on the reservation.

"Now that they're here, they are here to stay," Azure said.

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