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Montana considers releasing wild bison outside Yellowstone (+video)

 Montana may re-introduce a herd of wild bison that originated at Yellowstone National Park. Cattle ranchers will seek assurances that their stock will be protected. 

Montana wildlife managers are asking the public to weigh in on a plan that could see the state establish a herd of wild bison that originated at Yellowstone National Park.

The state for three years has crafted measures that would need to be in place for the return of a publicly managed wild bison herd to Montana after a decades-long absence, state Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Tom Palmer said on Friday.

The agency has opened a 90-day comment period for proposals that range from taking no steps to restore bison to the landscape to reintroducing them on private or public acreage where there would be less competition with livestock for grass and a lower threat of disease transmission.

The state is not pinpointing where bison might be restored, Palmer said.

The options floated by the state come less than a year after it gave 145 bison that originated at Yellowstone National Park - which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho - to a Native American tribe in Montana to further the conservation of the country's last herd of wild, purebred bison.

Those animals had been quarantined to create a herd free of a disease, brucellosis, that could be transmitted to cows and cause them to miscarry.

The brucellosis-free band was later confined to a Montana ranch owned by media mogul Ted Turner before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission approved giving the animals to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Bison that wander out of Yellowstone into neighboring Montana in winter in a search for food have been targeted for capture or death by government officials because roughly half the herd has been exposed to brucellosis.

Montana wildlife managers will make no firm plans before assessing the public response. Systematic hunting reduced the nation's vast wild herds to the fewer than 50 of the animals that found sanctuary at Yellowstone in the early 20th century.

Jay Bodner, natural resource director for Montana Stockgrowers Association, said the industry would seek to ensure that any projects eyed by the state spelled out how the massive creatures would be contained or fenced to prevent them from damaging private property and mingling with livestock. (Editing by Curtis Skinner)

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