April 3, 2008

GOA Criticizes Yellowstone Bison Management Plan

A report from the Government Accountability Office on Wednesday criticized federal and state agencies for the record number of bison deaths in Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is home to almost 3,600 free-roaming bison, some of which routinely migrate from the park during winter for food. This has been a concern to many local officials as it increases the risk of spreading brucellosis"”a contagious bacterial disease that some fear could be transmitted to livestock.

In late 2000, five federal and Montana state agencies agreed to form an Interagency Bison Management Plan (or IBMP) in order to "maintain a wild, free-ranging population of bison and address the risk of brucellosis transmission to protect the economic interest and viability of the livestock industry in Montana."

More than 1,400 bison have been removed or killed in the Yellowstone region since February.

$16 million spent on bison management since 2002, the IBMP remains stagnant in step one of the three-step process, said the GOA report

An additional $13 million was used to purchase 5,263 acres and a conservation easement on 1,508 acres of private lands north of the park's border where bison frequently attempt to migrate during the winter.

The GAO report was requested by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-WV, and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-NY. The congressmen released a copy of the report Wednesday.

"It's been clear for some time now that the current (bison management plan) is not working," Rahall said in a statement. "Both federal and state agencies could and should do much, much more to protect these magnificent animals while still safeguarding the cattle industry."

The slaughter of bison in this year alone has driven bison population down more than a third, from 4,700 animals last summer to an estimated 3,000 last week.

Overall, 3,200 bison have been killed since 2000.

The GOA reported that the IBMP had succeeded only in protecting nearby cattle from being infected with brucellosis.

"We agree we can improve," said Al Nash, a National Park Service spokesman at Yellowstone, adding the agency was "committed to maintaining a viable, wild, free-ranging bison population."

The livestock industry is pleased with the containment of the bacteria, which could result in the loss of millions of dollars if contracted by livestock. The industry has pressed for Yellowstone's bison to remain contained.

"The Department of Livestock and APHIS have been unwilling to treat bison as wildlife, and instead they continue to manage them like livestock," said Amy McNamara with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Errol Rice, vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said the report shows a lack of effort to add action to legislation.

"We've been hearing about that (vaccination program) for the last six years and nothing's happened," said Rice.

The 2000 agreement was signed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Montana Department of Livestock and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.


On the Net:

U.S. Government Accountability Office

Interagency Bison Management Plan

House Natural Resources Committee

National Park Service

Montana Stockgrowers Association