Ted Turner bison: Keep the calves, judge rules

Ted Turner bison agreement allowed state to transfer Yellowstone bison to billionaire's care for five years in exchange for their most of their calves. Judge upholds agreement, letting Ted Turner keep 150 bison calves.

Turner Broadcasting System/AP/File
Some of Ted Turner's bison are herded on his fanch near Bozeman, Mont., in 1997. A judge upheld an agreement whereby the billionaire got to keep 75 percent of the calves of state-owned bison that he cared for.

Billionaire Ted Turner can keep his Yellowstone National Park bison calves.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports in a story published Sunday that Gallatin County Judge Holly Brown dismissed a request by a coalition of wildlife advocates to overturn an agreement Turner made with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The agreement transferred dozens of bison to Turner's private ranch near Bozeman to be taken care of for five years. In exchange, Turner gets 75 percent of their offspring, or about 150 animals.

Four wildlife groups that opposed the transfer filed a lawsuit contending the animals are a public resource that should be shielded from privatization. The suit's plaintiffs said the state should either move the animals onto public land or pay Turner to take care of them rather than give up their young as compensation.

Brown in her decision three weeks ago said state lawmakers gave the state wildlife agency broad decision making authority in the management of bison.

"The court cannot substitute its judgment for that of the agency by determining whether the department's decision was correct," she wrote.

The plaintiffs, Western Watersheds Project, the Buffalo Field Campaign, the Gallatin Wildlife Association and the Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation, said they will appeal.

Tens of millions of bison once roamed North America, but they were driven to near-extinction in the late 19th century. Yellowstone's 3,000 bison comprise one of the largest remaining populations in the world.

"The simple truth is that management of Yellowstone bison is no easy task, from either a logistical standpoint or a public relations one," Brown wrote. "Yellowstone bison arouse great passions from individuals and groups across the spectrum."

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