Sixty-four bison from Yellowstone National Park have been shipped almost 500 miles to north east Montana’s Fort Peck Reservation, under a long-stalled relocation initiative meant to repopulate parts of the American West with the animals.
They arrived 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 governor 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,” Mr Schweitzer said.
Tribal and state officials signed an agreement allowing the transfer to take place, Mr Magnan said.
Caught off guard were landowners and property rights groups that opposed the relocation. They filed a request for a temporary restraining order to halt the move.
Lawyer Cory Swanson said moving the animals without public notice following years of controversy amounted to a “sneak attack”.