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Bison roundup

Theodore Roosevelt National Park hosts bison round up

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WATFORD CITY -- A bison roundup in Theodore Roosevelt National Park's North Unit went off without a hitch Tuesday and two Native American tribes will soon receive the animals.

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This year's roundup aims to cull about 225 of the North Unit's 325 bison, a process that hasn't been conducted since 2004.

With a crew of about 40 people and a contracted Wyoming helicopter crew, about 84 of the animals were worked at the North Unit handling facility Tuesday.

Roundup efforts will continue today.

Eileen Andes, TRNP chief of interpretation and public affairs, said the park tries to keep the roundup and handling environment as quiet and low stress as possible.

After being rounded up via helicopter and herded through a series of shoots, each bison is assessed for sex, age and health. A blood sample is also drawn to test for brucellosis, a disease that can cause aborted pregnancies.

Further testing for brucellosis will be conducted today.

One bison bull made it well known he was not happy about his new surroundings. Officials released the male from the process due to his heightened agitation.

"He just wasn't settling down so rather than risk injury to him or any of us, it's just best to let him go," Andes said.

Mike Oehler, TRNP biologist, said the decision on which bison to keep within the park are based on what he wants "the population to look like."

Aiming to keep the population proportions at one adult male for every two adult females, the park aims to maintain a population dominated by younger-aged bison, according to TRNP documents.

The park works in conjunction with the Intertribal Buffalo Council, who then decides which tribes receive the buffalo.

The National Park Service has a policy that any "excess wildlife" first goes to tribes, said Valerie Naylor, park superintendent.

"It's nice that we can send them to Indian nations who will use them for tribal ceremonies, for healthy food programs and other uses," Naylor said.

This year's culled herd will go to the Spirit Lake Tribe and the Blackfeet Nation of Montana.

Heather Hatfield-Herrod, technical services provider for the Intertribal Buffalo Council, an organization that provides buffalo-related services to 55 tribes in 19 states, said for tribes receiving the buffalo, it's a "return to a way of life."

Raymond Jetty, of the Spirit Lake Sioux Nation, said the buffalo are used for cultural purposes along with memorials and community diabetes programs.

"If it wasn't for the buffalo, there wouldn't be a lot of Native Americans here today," Jetty said. "It kept them alive. That was their food, their clothing, their housing. It's really important to us, just to have the buffalo."

Jetty, who has been involved in five roundups and manages the Spirit Lake Sioux Nation buffalo herd, said about 120 bison will be transported to Spirit Lake, minus 25 that will be dropped off at Standing Rock.

For one year the buffalo cannot be butchered or sold, Jetty said.

Culling of the bison is pertinent to the park's health, Naylor said.

"We have to use artificial means to remove certain numbers from the park because they can double their numbers every three years or so," she said. "The park would definitely be heavily overgrazed."

Naylor said while the park could handle more buffalo than it presently maintains, the number is kept lower for sustainability during more challenging years such as that of a drought.

"If we should let the bison multiply and never remove any, eventually we would have no grass left and of course they would decline as well and it would be to the detriment of the park and every other value that we hold dear," Naylor said.

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