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Two roaming bison are killed

MEDORA -- A rancher who lives north of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park shot and killed two bison bulls that had escaped the confines of the park Tuesday evening.

MEDORA -- A rancher who lives north of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park shot and killed two bison bulls that had escaped the confines of the park Tuesday evening.

Park officials received a report that two bison were harassing a rancher's herd, but before they arrived on the scene the bison had already been shot.

TRNP chief park ranger Tom Cox said the rancher, whose name was not released, was more than cooperative when they arrived.

"He was very straightforward with his statements and wasn't trying to hide that he had done it or anything like that," Cox said.

As of right now, no charges are being pressed against the individual because he was protecting his livestock, but Cox did say he is following up on the matter.

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"It's not our preference to have something like that happen, we consider this type of action a last resort," Cox said.

Cox added, "Generally the fact the animals were in distress and there was an immediate need for action on his part," is the reason charges are most likely not going to be filed.

Typically, when one of the park's bison is killed, the meat is donated to a local organization for procession. The two shot Tuesday have been donated to the Badlands Ministries, a Lutheran Bible camp south of Medora.

TRNP chief of resource management Bill Whitworth said this isn't the first time a bison had been shot by a landowner, but it is a "fairly rare" occurrence. Whitworth said, however, this isn't the first report they've received of a bison harassing cattle outside the park. They have also received reports of bison peacefully coexisting in a pasture with cattle, adding the conflicting reports were probably relative to the specific bison involved.

"We've gotten conflicting reports from both sides on how much they physically bother the cattle," Whitworth said. "...We've got animals that are young out there that will escape, older bulls and even some females. It's a full range of animals that will get out."

Bison escapes are somewhat common and happen a few times a year, typically following a heavy rain or the spring snowmelt, which washes out the fence over the Little Missouri River that runs through the park.

A few bison take advantage of the washed-out fence each time and venture outside the park.

"It's hard to get inside a bison's head," Whitworth said. "But there are a lot of places for a bison to hide outside the park and the longer they stay out of the park the more comfortable they get in that area."

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Whitworth added each bison has different reasons to leave the park, as some see an opportunity and others have learned how to get through the fence.

"Sometimes there are those bulls that don't look for holes in the fence, they learn how to create holes," Whitworth said.

Those who have learned how to go through the fence are the ones that have historically caused problems for park management and the park's neighbors.

"In the case of park staff occasionally dispatching bison, it is because they've learned how to work their way through the fence," Cox said. "It's certainly something we don't like to do, but occasionally it does need to be done."

Cox and Whitworth said the two bison bulls shot had not demonstrated a habit of escaping the park and they were planning to chase the bulls back into the park before they were shot.

It's easy for the bison to blend in and get lost in the Badlands scenery that surrounds the park and Whitworth said good information is the best way to get the bison back into the park.

"For us to act on reports, we need a good location and a timely location and not to assume that the park knows the bison are out there," Whitworth said. "If we get timely information we'll try to act on these reports quickly."

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