Another bloody winter for the hungry Yellowstone National Park bison herd
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2008:
WEST YELLOWSTONE–Bison defenders fear that the winter of
2007/2008 will become one of the bloodiest in decades of trying to
protect Yellowstone National Park bison who stray into Montana,
“With heavy snow falling, and the end of winter weather possibly
months away, the death toll this year is fast approaching the 1,016
bison killed during the winter of 2004/2005,” Associated Press
writer Matthew Brown observed on February 26, 2008.
Nathan James Drake, 26, briefly delayed the massacre by
camping on a platform above the Horse Butte bison trap. Arrested
late on February 26, he was released on $5,000 bail, “reportedly
the highest yet for bison-related direct action,” said the Buffalo
Personnel from Yellowstone and the Montana Department of Livestock
had sent 575 bison to slaughter, as of March 3, with another 100
reportedly awaiting transport.
“None of the bison have been tested or will be tested for
exposure to brucellosis, the supposed reason” for the captures and
killing, objected the Buffalo Field Campaign.
“More than 2,500 bison have been killed or otherwise removed
from the wild population since 2000,” the Buffalo Field Campaign
added, “under actions carried out under the Interagency Bison
Management Plan, as well as by state and treaty hunts. While the
official reason for the slaughter is to prevent the spread of
brucellosis from wild bison to cattle, no such transmission has ever
Montana has been federally listed as a brucellosis-free state
since 1985, meaning that ranchers avoid the cost of having to test
cattle for the disease before selling them to other states or to
slaughter. Brucellosis is endemic among Yellowstone-region bison and
elk–but seven cattle found to have brucellosis in May 2007, on a
ranch near Bridger, apparently were infected by other cattle.
“Because there are no cattle on any part of the Horse Butte
Peninsula,” where the bison are captured, “at any time of the
year,” said the Buffalo Field Campaign, “transmission [from bison
to cattle] is impossible, and Montana’s intolerance for bison in the
area is unjustifiable.”
Cattle were formerly pastured on the Horse Butte Peninsula,
but “a change of land ownership means there now will be no cattle
there year-round,” explained Bozeman Daily Chronicle staff writer
Montana Department of Livestock executive officer Christian
Mackay said bison entering Montana would be killed anyway, lest some
cross the frozen surface of Hebgen Lake to enter areas where cattle
are pastured. “We want to avoid the situation we were in last year,”
Mackay told McMillion, “having large numbers calving on private
Bison who leave Yellowstone are not being tested, McMillion
wrote, because “The lease on a brucellosis quarantine facility at
Corwin Springs has expired. The expired lease was signed by the
former property owner, Welch Brogan, who has since died.”
The 400-acre former elk ranch is now owned by one Hunter Brink.
“Over the past two winters, calves with no signs of exposure
to brucellosis have been held there and tested repeatedly for
antibodies to the disease,” McMillion recounted. “After they
reached breeding age, they were taken to a separate leased property
a few miles north for the second phase of the program,” which
involved checking for evidence of maternal transmission.
“Adult animals aren’t tested for the disease this early in
the winter,” McMillion continued. “They’re shipped quickly to
slaughter because Yellowstone officials say they have no place to
keep them until spring.
“The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks is looking
for ways to expand the number of state-licensed bison hunters in the
future when large numbers of bison are outside Yellowstone,”
McMillion noted. Montana hunters shot 63 bison in early 2008.
Members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes killed 39.
Members of the Nez Perce tribe shot 54, and claimed an 1855 treaty
right to kill up to 110.
Wyoming hunters shot 266 bison south of Yellowstone in fall
2007, 222 of them within the National Elk Refuge, which lies
between Yellowstone and Jackson. Most of the rest were killed in the
Bridger-Teton National Forest and on private property.
The joint management plan calls for maintaining the
Yellowstone bison herd at not fewer than 3,000–but at the beginning
of this winter the herd numbered more than 4,700.