Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Ted Turner gets OK for Yellowstone bison on ranch

December 4, 2009, 12:10 pm
The head of Montana's wildlife agency has given preliminary approval to a plan calling for 74 bison from Yellowstone National Park to go to billionaire Ted Turner's private ranch.

Officials hope to eventually use the bison to establish new herds on public lands. But conservationists see the move as privatizing Montana wildlife.

The bison have been held in federal quarantine for the past several years to make sure they don't have the animal disease brucellosis.

Turner offered to hold them for five years — the duration of the quarantine program — in exchange for keeping 90 percent of their offspring. That could amount to about 190 animals to offset his costs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the quarantine in Corwin Springs, Mont., also opposes the move.

Bison, or buffalo, once numbered in the millions across North America but were driven to near extinction.

Turner Enterprises general manager Russell Miller said Ted Turner stepped in after Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer asked if he would consider submitting a proposal for the animals.

Turner wanted to help the state after prior efforts to relocate the Yellowstone bison had failed, Miller said.

"I see this as a perfect blend between conservation for the public good and privatization to recoup the costs," Miller said.

It would cost about $480,000 to tend to the animals over the five years, he said.

Ken McDonald with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks said the animals could be moved to Turner's sprawling Flying D Ranch by late February.

An environmental study must be done first, then the department would open the plan to comment for 30 days.

Officials recommended the moved last month. Final approval must be given by Fish Wildlife and Parks chief Joe Maurier.