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Bison given licence to roam freely

Bison from Yellowstone National Park will roam freely across 75,000 acres in the US state of Montana where for years the animals were shipped to slaughter by the hundreds, under a breakthrough agreement expected to be adopted this week.

The deal - involving five state and federal agencies and several American Indian tribes - still limits where bison can go during their winter migrations.

Officials say those that move beyond the newly opened habitat and head north into the Paradise Valley will continue to be shot to protect livestock against a disease carried by the wild animals.

But supporters say the agreement will bring some relief to the state's bison management dilemma, which has dragged on for two decades and resulted in the slaughter of 3,800 bison.

A copy of the agreement shows bison will be free to roam within an area known as the Gardiner Basin when they migrate from the mountainous park during winter to graze.

A map attached to the document depicts a Bison Conservation Area estimated by a US Forest Service official at 75,000 acres, although some of that land is too steep to support bison.

State veterinarian Marty Zaluski said that increased bison hunting would be allowed in the basin as a way to control their population without resorting so often to slaughter.

Letting the population grow unchecked is not considered a viable option by government officials. About 40% of more than 600 bison captured this year have tested positive for exposure to brucellosis. The disease causes pregnant animals to abort their young.

"We need to get rid of 400 bison on an annual basis. Hunting is the most palatable option," Mr Zaluski said.

The population is now estimated at 3,500 animals. However, park officials have yet to say if they will spare about 250 bison slated to be killed before Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer intervened in February and imposed a 90-day prohibition on shipments to slaughter.

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