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Hook Lake bison headed for slaughter

Jack Danylchuk
Northern News Services

Fort Smith (Dec 19/05) - After months of delays, the federal government has refused to take over funding for the Hook Lake bison recovery project.

"It's disappointing," Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger said Friday.

"They did not follow through on what we thought was a strong commitment. We didn't get the response we hoped for."

The program to create a disease-free bison herd was launched in 1991 as a joint federal-territorial project, but Ottawa never contributed money.

The territorial government spent more than $3 million to manage the captive herd at Fort Resolution, but last spring one animal tested positive for tuberculosis.

"We held the fort by ourselves for 10 years, but we can't continue," Miltenberger said. "We've been under-funding a whole pile of areas to cover this off, so we can put the money to good use."

The problem of tuberculosis in wild bison will continue to plague Wood Buffalo National Park and domestic livestock and the project will eventually have to be revived, Miltenberger said.

"But until the federal government is clear in its commitment and makes a concrete investment, we're not going to resolve this issue," he said.

"They are losing 10 years of work; we could have salvaged this and got disease-free calves this spring, but it's not going to happen."

It will cost the territorial government $500,000 to round up the remaining 122 bison, haul them to a meat packer in Alberta for slaughter and testing and then clean up to coral in Fort Resolution.