By Carol Johnson
In 2000, the federal government and Montana state agencies created a plan to slaughter bison as they leave Yellowstone National Park in search of food. The agreement is meant to prevent the spread of brucellosis, a disease that affects cattle and other livestock. Brucellosis can cause pregnant animals to spontaneously abort, and an outbreak in Montana could cost tens of millions of dollars in lost sales and decreased cattle prices.
Since the agreement was signed, more than 3,200 bison have been killed. But more than 1,400 have been removed or killed since February.
The problem lies in the fact that the original agreement called for federal and state agencies to expand the area where bison can feely roam outside the park. Despite spending almost $16 million on bison management since 20002, and spending another $13 million to try to secure land and conservation easements just outside the park in an area where bison often migrate to, the bison territory was never expanded.
The United States was once home to millions of bison, found across most of North America. But they were almost made extinct by early European settlers in the 1800s. Late in the 20th century, the population of bison in Yellowstone had begun to rebound significantly, but at the same time, the park’s bison had become one of the last reservoirs of brucellosis in the United States. Because the disease is pretty much eradicated from the rest of the country, the livestock industry has strongly urged government agencies to contain the park’s bison, but the area where bison are allowed to roam free has not been expanded, as the original agreement called for. Hence the slaughter.
"It’s been clear for some time now that the current (bison management plan) is not working," said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall. "Both federal and state agencies could and should do much, much more to protect these magnificent animals while still safeguarding the cattle industry."
Al Nash, a National Park Service spokesman, said that the Park Service is doing its best to balance bison protection with the threat of the spread of brucellosis. "We agree that we can improve," said Nash. According to him, the agency is "committed to maintaining a viable, wild, free-ranging bison population."
But the bison slaughter program has dramatically impacted the park’s bison population. Last year there were approximately 4,700 bison roaming Yellowstone. This year’s slaughter has reduced that number by more than a third, to an estimated 3,000.
Conservation groups say that the overseers of the slaughter program refuse to show greater tolerance for bison even in areas where cattle no longer graze. "The Department of Livestodk and APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection) have been unwilling to treat bison as wildlife, and instead they continue to manage them like livestock," says Amy McNamara, a spokesperson for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. McNamara’s group advocates for there to be more bison habitat established outside the park.
Errol Rice, vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers’ Association, criticized the National Park Service for not working harder to develop a brucellosis vaccination program for bison. "We’ve been hearing about that (program) for the last six year and nothing’s happened," Rice said. So in the meantime, the bison are slaughtered.
Someone needs to tell the bureaucrats that are dragging their heels that the song doesn’t say, "Oh give me a home where the buffalo are slaughtered."