Yellowstone Bison Captured for Slaughter Inside Park

GARDINER, Montana, March 1, 2004 (ENS) - Federal and Montana state officials have captured 163 Yellowstone bison and slaughtered 53 during the past 10 days. The actions were taken under the guidelines of a controversial federal/state management plan that allows the slaughtering of bison that wander outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park, but activists protective of the buffalo say all these animals were captured inside the park.

"Yellowstone used to be a wildlife sanctuary," said Dan Brister, project coordinator of the Buffalo Field Campaign. "Under the watch of Superintendent Suzanne Lewis it has been transformed into a buffalo slaughter facility set up to do the bidding of Montana's livestock industry,"


Suzanne Lewis is superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
Of the 163 bison captured during the past 10 days, none had left the park, according to the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), which is the only organization working in the field to stop the slaughter of Yellowstone's wild buffalo.

According to a statement issued by the National Park Service, the current slaughter is designed to keep buffalo "away from cattle grazing adjacent to the park." Requests for additional comment by the Park Service and the Montana Department of Livestock went unanswered.

The management plan allows state officials to slaughter bison that wander out of the park in the winter when the overall herd exceeds 3,000. Park officials currently estimate some 4,200 animals in the herd.

This winter 173 bison have been captured, 63 slaughtered and two shot in the field.

Officials are required to try and haze the animals back into the park, but if that fails they are authorized to capture the bison and test them for brucellosis.

In 2003, some 231 bison from the Yellowstone herd were killed because of the fear they could infect cattle with brucellosis - a fear that critics say is unfounded.


The National Park Service sometimes uses helicopters to try and haze bison back into the park. (Photo courtesy Buffalo Field Campaign)
There has never been a documented case of brucellosis transmission from wild bison to livestock, and critics say the test used by the Montana Department of Livestock is unreliable.

According to state officials, the 53 animals sent to slaughter this year tested positive for exposure to the bacterial disease, which can cause spontaneous abortion and stillborn calves.

The test determines the presence of antibodies - not active infection - and bison are capable of developing natural resistance to brucellosis after being exposed, conservationists say.

"We are deeply troubled that Yellowstone's buffalo, the symbol of the American West, have once again been subjected to a hysteria based slaughter," said Jeff Leitner, public policy coordinator for The Fund for Animals. "Our federal agencies, in a pact with agents from the state of Montana, are managing the fragile Yellowstone buffalo herd out of fear. Our tax dollars should not support this horrible act."

The bison that test negative for exposure to brucellosis are being held for release in the spring - some have been vaccinated as part of the management plan's long term vaccination program.

The vaccine is known to be more effective in livestock, but it did not prevent the infection of Wyoming cattle, who contracted brucellosis from elk in January.

Elk, which far outnumber bison, are permitted to range beyond the park and are not considered a brucellosis concern by federal or state agencies.

But concerning the bison management plan, state officials say the economic risk of infection, which could cause the state to lose its certification as "brucellosis free," justifies the policy. snowybison

Severe winters force bison to roam further for food. (Photo by Steve Maslowski courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS))
Critics argue that no cattle graze on lands adjacent to Yellowstone during the winter. They contend killing the bison is not about science, but rather about land use and politics.

The Yellowstone herd should be afforded the upmost protection, conservationists add, because it is descended from 25 wild bison that survived the mass eradication of the 19th century. It is the largest remaining single population of genetically pure bison.

"The Park Service is mandated to protect the buffalo unimpaired for future generations. Instead they are doing the dirty work of the Montana livestock industry and eroding the wildness of this national treasure," Brister said. "Yellowstone should be a sanctuary for wildlife, not a slaughterhouse."

In recent years a group of 52 Indian tribes has offered to take the excess bison to roam on Indian reservations, but Montana state officials say the brucellosis concern is too great to allow the bison out of the park.

Millions of bison once roamed across the Great Plains of the United States and the animal has deep cultural significance to many Native American tribes.

Although Park Service officials downplay the fear, there is concern this culling of the herd could damage the genetic diversity of the bison within Yellowstone. The overall population consists of several smaller groups, and conservationists worry that the rounding up of migrating groups could wipe out entire genetic strains. snowybison

Millions of bison once roamed the nation's Great Plains. (Photo courtesy FWS)
There are signs that the U.S. Congress is hearing the concerns of conservationists regarding the management of the Yellowstone bison herd.

Legislation now before the U.S. House of Representatives would allow Yellowstone bison to use public lands for winter forage adjacent to the park. Proposed by Congressman Maurice Hinchey, a New York Democrat, and Charles Bass, a New Hampshire Republican, the federal "Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act" has 60 cosponsors to date. It has been referred to the House Committee on Resources.

If passed into law, the Yellowstone buffalo herd would be allowed to freely roam the park and the federal lands adjacent to Yellowstone National Park on the north and west boundaries without being hazed. These lands would be made available exclusively for buffalo and wildlife use, and include the Gallatin National Forest, where the BFC says hazing activities are now interfering with other wildlife such as the bald eagle.

The National Park Service would disassemble the Stephens Creek Buffalo Capture Facility if the bill becomes law.

Management authority of the Yellowstone buffalo herd within the park would be under the sole jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Today the management plan is carried out under the jurisdiction of four agencies, both federal and state - The National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, both divisions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the state of Montana.