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Judge stalls bison relocation in Montana



Just days after 63 Yellowstone bison were transplanted to Montana's Fort Peck Reservation in late March of this year, District Court Judge John McKeon issued a temporary injunction against any additional bison relocation efforts in the state. The decision effectively stalled plans to transport half of the new Fort Peck herd to the Fort Belknap Reservation later this year.

But Defenders of Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation, which support the bison relocations, aren't backing down. Earlier this week, attorneys representing both organizations filed an appeal with the Montana Supreme Court in an effort to overturn McKeon's March ruling.

With help from Defenders of Wildlife, officials on Fort Belknap have secured some 22,000 acres in recent years to accommodate new bison. Fencing and other infrastructure projects are already under way in anticipation of receiving bison this fall.

McKeon's injunction came in response to ongoing litigation between Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the nonprofit Citizens for Balanced Use. CBU filed suit in March, alleging that FWP Director Joe Maurier and the FWP commission had violated the law in transporting bison from Yellowstone. The group cited legislation passed last year that requires state officials to develop a management plan before they can relocate bison.

Now it appears that FWP is setting up to meet the stringent demands made by CBU and other opponents of bison relocation. The agency began hosting public scoping meetings this week in an effort to draft a management plan for the reintroduction of wild bison to different parts of Montana. FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim says the seven-meeting tour across the state "isn't the end of it" but rather the beginning. "There will be other opportunities" for the public to get involved.

FWP doesn't expect to finish gathering public input until this fall. Aasheim says a draft of the plan won't likely be finished until the end of 2014. As for the scoping process beginning so close on the heels of CBU's legal push for a management plan, Aasheim says there's no connection. "We had this in the mill a long, long time before that."

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