BILLINGS, Mont. — Federal officials said Monday that 20 parcels of public lands in 10 states, including two locations in Oklahoma, could be suitable for bison from Yellowstone National Park, although it’s likely to be years before any animals are relocated to the sites.
The locations include the Chickasaw National Recreation Area near Sulphur, and the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge near Lawton. The Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in Kansas, which extends into northern Oklahoma, also is included.
Other areas are as diverse as Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park, an Iowa wildlife refuge and a North Dakota national historic site.
They were identified in a long-awaited the Department of Interior report that looked at using Yellowstone’s bison herds to further the restoration of a species that once ranged most of the continent.
Tens of millions of bison occupied North America before overhunting nearly drove them extinct by the late 19th century.
Yellowstone was one of the last holdouts for the animals in the wild, and had roughly 4,600 bison at last count. During their winter migrations, the animals periodically spill from Wyoming into neighboring Montana, triggering large-scale bison slaughters to prevent the spread of the animal disease brucellosis.
A pilot bison relocation program in Montana has struggled to overcome opposition from ranchers. They worry both about the disease and the possibility of bison competing with cattle for grazing space.
The pilot program quarantined Yellowstone bison for several years before they could be moved, to protect against disease transmissions. Even so, many within the livestock industry remain wary and most of the animals in the program have not yet been relocated.
At a glance
The states and locations identified Monday as potentially suitable for relocated bison were: