April 11, 2008

Groups Upset Over Bison Slaughter At Yellowstone

The continued slaughter of bison migrating from the west side of Yellowstone National Park has sparked outrage in environmental groups and bison advocates who requested a moratorium on Thursday.

Since last fall, a state-federal livestock disease management program has been forced to kill or remove 1,598 bison seeking food at lower elevations outside the park.

Another wave of bison are expected to migrate soon to Montana calving grounds and critics say the slaughter is threatening the viability of Yellowstone's bison herds.

Three groups on Thursday asked Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and five state and federal agencies to stop the slaughter in an area known as Horse Butte"”an area west of the park.

There is little chance bison there could transmit the disease brucellosis to livestock because cattle no longer graze in the area, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Gallatin Wildlife Association and Buffalo Field Campaign.

Stephany Seay, a spokesperson for the Buffalo Field Campaign, said they simply do not know the damage they're causing to the genetic viability of this population. "The sooner they act the better for them and the better for the buffalo. If they ignore us, we'll take other steps."

Last week, the Government Accountability Office released a report criticizing state and federal agencies for making little progress to stem the slaughter"”the moratorium request soon followed.

According to the report, a plan adopted eight years ago to slowly increase tolerance for bison outside the park has effectively stalled. The agencies involved - the Forest Service, Park Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and Montana Department of Livestock - have failed to come up with an effective brucellosis vaccine and other steps outlined in a 2000 agreement.

No cattle-to-bison transmissions have been recorded, but about half of Yellowstone's bison test positive for the brucellosis disease, which can cause pregnant cows to abort their calves.

Al Nash, a spokesman for Yellowstone, said the park was monitoring the health of the park's bison population and park officials do not believe this year's slaughter has threatened its viability.

Nash said the park service already has taken steps on the north end of the park to hold some captured bison until they can be released once the snow melts.

Yellowstone is home to two bison herds that make up the largest surviving group of wild bison in the world.

The slaughter program"”combined with a public hunt and the removal of some animals for testing"”has cut the park's bison population by more than a third.

In the winter of 2005-06, more than 1,000 bison were killed and park officials have said that the herd has rebounded from similar reductions.


On the Net:

Yellowstone National Park

Natural Resources Defense Council

Gallatin Wildlife Association

Buffalo Field Campaign

Government Accountability Office

"GOA Criticizes Yellowstone Bison Management Plan"