Montana wildlife officials plan to decide Thursday whether to ship 145 Yellowstone National Park bison that are now being held on a ranch owned by philanthropist and media mogul Ted Turner to locations across the nation, including the Bronx and Queens zoos in New York.
The bison were captured a decade ago under an experimental program to start new herds using the genetically pure Yellowstone animals. They spent years in quarantine to make sure they weren't carrying the disease brucellosis, which has caused problems for the cattle industry.
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A consortium led by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society would receive 10 bison for zoos in the Bronx, Queens and Ohio. The animals would be used to establish nucleus herds to promote future conservation.
Seventy of the bison would go to Montana's Fort Peck Indian Reservation and 35 to Oklahoma's Cherokee Nation under a proposal from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The remaining 30 would go to the Utah's Division of Wildlife, to augment two existing herds of the animals that are managed by the state in the Henry Mountains and Book Cliffs.
Montana wildlife commissioners are expected to consider the recommendations Thursday at a meeting in Bozeman.
The bison are currently being held on southwestern Montana's Green Ranch, which is owned by Turner, after previous attempts to relocate the animals ended in failure.
Turner wants the animals moved by November, state officials said.
An environmental analysis of the relocation proposal is pending. Montana Wildlife Division Administrator Ken McDonald said Thursday's vote is conditional on the completion of that analysis.
A fifth applicant for the animals, the private American Prairie wildlife reserve in north-central Montana, was dropped from consideration two weeks ago.
That decision came after pressure from ranching groups prompted wildlife officials to say they wouldn't relocate bison to non-tribal lands until a long-delayed statewide bison-conservation plan is completed, possibly sometime next year.