Montana's governor on Tuesday issued an order blocking the Interior Department from transporting fish and wildlife anywhere within the state or across state lines — raising the stakes in his ongoing tussle with federal officials over their management of wildlife.
Gov. Brian Schweitzer said he was concerned the federal agency's actions have allowed animal diseases such as brucellosis and chronic wasting disease to spread across the region.
He also said he wants to halt the transfer of bison to other states from the National Bison Range. The Democratic governor said those bison are "genetically impure mongrels" that should not be used for conservation purposes.
Interior officials earlier this month turned down Schweitzer's proposal to relocate dozens of bison from Yellowstone National Park onto the bison range near Moiese. But the governor said the rejection of his proposal was just the latest in a string of confrontations with federal officials over wildlife in recent years.
Previously, Schweitzer has called on the federal government to stop the artificial feeding of elk on the National Elk Refuge in neighboring Wyoming — a practice biologists have said concentrates wildlife populations and increases the chances of disease transmission.
"It's their cavalier disregard for wildlife genetics and disease," Schweitzer said. "They don't seem to be interested in changing their behavior."
He said the order will remain in place until federal officials show cooperation with Montana over wildlife.
An Interior Department spokesman said he had not yet seen the order and couldn't immediately comment.
It was not immediately clear what effects the order could have.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — part of Interior — manages the bison at the Moiese range in concert with different bison populations at refuges in Montana, North Dakota, Colorado and Nebraska. The agency occasionally moves animals from refuge to refuge, FWS spokeswoman Diane Katzenberger said.
"We will move bison between these isolated meta-populations to ensure genetic diversity," Katzenberger said. "But we have no plans to move any bison within the next year."
Besides the National Bison Range, FWS manages bison populations at Sullys Hill National Game Preserve in North Dakota, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado and Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska.
The federal agency does not move any other wildlife across state lines, Katzenberger said.