Hundreds Of Wild Bison Are About To Be Killed For No Good Reason
They're our national animal — and we're literally slaughtering them.
Forty-four bison were just captured in Yellowstone National Park's Stephens Creek bison trap.
All of these bison were born in the wild and have been growing up in the wild expanses of one of America's most famous national parks. And while scores of bison are raised in domesticated settings, these 44 are part of one of the last of wild bison herds in the country, which is considered a national treasure.
And yet these animals, and hundreds more who will be caught in the coming months, will be killed.
Just over a century ago, in 1902, there were only about two dozen bison left in Yellowstone National Park. Hunting and poaching had ravaged the population.
So, over the next century, the people at Yellowstone worked to bring the species back from the brink of extinction - and they were incredibly successful.
But then ranchers raising livestock in Montana decided they had had enough of the bison, who frequently graze outside the boundaries of the park.
The ranchers claimed they feared an outbreak of brucellosis, a disease that causes miscarriages in cattle and was carried by the Yellowstone bison herd. If an outbreak occurred, the ranchers would lose money. (The bison had actually originally caught the disease from cows ranchers had allowed to graze in the park around 1917).
People at the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) claim that this disease has never spread from buffalo in the wild to domestic cattle. Anyways, all female cows in the region are required to be vaccinated against the disease. Still, the slaughter of the bison continues.
This is because the state sued the National Park Service (NPS) in 1995. They reached a settlement wherein eight different agencies created the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which aims to keep the bison population of the park at no more than 3,000. Bison considered to be extraneous are rounded up and sent to slaughter by native tribes or shot by hunters.
Essentially, the park is being forced to round up and send to slaughter the very animals it had spent a century trying to save. The largest cull so far was in the winter of 2007 to 2008, when 1,600 bison were killed.
"It's really complex and if there were a simple solution, we would have fixed it already," Marty Zaluski, state veterinarian for the Montana Department of Livestock, told The Dodo.
Zaluski said that BFC is correct that wild bison have not transmitted disease to cattle, but that's partially because people have been preventing that from happening through interventions like the vaccine against brucellosis. He said that the Yellowstone bison population, which grows about 13 percent each year, does need to be managed so that hundreds don't have to be sent to slaughter.
"To be quite honest, I am frustrated and mystified about why fertility control is a tool that isn't being used," Zaluski said, adding that the animals are not at risk of extinction anymore, so such measures might make a lot of sense. "You can reduce population and reduce the number of animals going to slaughter."
Today, there are an estimated 5,500 bison in Yellowstone National Park. This means the lives of 2,500 hang in the balance.
But conservationists see the intervention in bison population as fueled by ranchers with political clout. "Montana's livestock lobby continues to play deadly political games with this keystone species which is not in the least guilty of the crimes cattlemen blame them with," Stephany Seay of BFC said in a statement. "In truth, invasive cattle have left death, pollution and destruction in their wake across the lands of the west, and only wild, migratory buffalo can heal these injuries."
Seay noted the sad irony of the cull, given that bison were recently named the national animal by the U.S. Congress "because they embody such monumental significance in this country, as a symbol of the wild, untamed land, as the true shapers and stewards of native grasslands and prairie communities."
The NPS is racing to figure out a solution that wouldn't take the lives of so many animals each year. The NPS is trying to save the animals by finding other land reserves where the animals born in Yellowstone can live. But it is currently against state and federal laws to move wild bison exposed to brucellosis anywhere except to meat processing and research facilities.
To find a solution, the NPS has proposed a quarantine program for bison, in collaboration with the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. "From quarantine, animals that repeatedly test negative for brucellosis could be sent alive to other public, private or tribal lands," the NPS said. "Quarantine would reduce the need for capture/slaughter operations, and it would promote an even more robust population of Yellowstone bison across the country."
But the state of Montana and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have opposed this lifesaving proposal. Zaluski said this is because the department opposed the proposed location where bison would be moved. And so it's business as usual for the bison cull yet again this year.
Meanwhile, the constricted NPS encourages citizens to weigh in about the culls to their local representatives and the members of the Interagency Bison Management Plan, and to attend meetings of the group until something can change to help these animals. And they need help soon.
"In one direction lies the trap, in the other the gun, and these attacks last for months on end without respite," Seay said.
The National Park Service did not immediately reply to The Dodo's request for comment.