Yellowstone's Killing Fields
That appears to be the position Montana officials are taking with upwards of 300 bison that have wandered out of Yellowstone National Park near West Yellowstone, Montana.
Beginning Thursday, wranglers on hoof, possibly in the air, and behind the wheel of trucks will round up the bison -- adults and calves just weeks old -- and send them off to slaughter.
Why? Because of the possibility they might be carriers of brucellosis, a disease that can cause cattle to abort their fetuses.
The unknown is whether these bison even carry the disease. And according to the Buffalo Field Campaign, a grassroots group that strives to halt the slaughter of Yellowstone's free-roaming bison, the bison will be killed without any tests being conducted to determine whether they carry brucellosis.
Yellowstone officials, meanwhile, are not interceding.
Members of the Buffalo Field Campaign attended Tuesday's emergency meeting of the Montana Board of Livestock at which the decision to kill the bison was made. They say that when asked whether trucking the bison back into Yellowstone was possible, park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis replied, "It has never been a policy of the Interagency Bison Management Plan to haul bison into the park."
Clearly, a solution needs to be reached that both placates Montana's livestock interests and does not hand an automatic death penalty to any Yellowstone bison that naturally head to lower ground in the winter. The concern for such a solution has been heard in Washington, D.C., where earlier this spring U.S. Representative Nick Joe Rahall held a hearing into the management of Yellowstone's bison herds.
At that hearing it was pointed out that there has never been a documented case of brucellosis being transmitted from bison to cattle. It also was noted that officials from the park and the three surrounding states are at least four years behind the schedule they established in the Interagency Bison Management Plan for separating cattle and bison. In particular, it was noted that that plan required by the winter of 2002/2003 that "cattle no longer graze in the winter on certain private lands north of Yellowstone National Park and west of the Yellowstone River to minimize the risk of brucellosis transmission from bison to cattle..."
And yet, bison that have moved west of the park, in an area where no cattle currently are being grazed, are being unceremoniously led off to slaughter.
The National Parks Conservation Association has proposed a four-pronged approach to dealing with bison, brucellosis, and cattle. That approach includes additional bison range north of Yellowstone on land owned by the Church Universal and Triumphant; creating a "brucellosis classification 'sub-region' within the greater Yellowstone region; doing a better job of separating cattle and bison that move out of Yellowstone, and; developing an effective brucellosis vaccine for cattle and bison.
(Photo courtesy of Buffalo Field Campaign)