“Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo, er, bison…” stay in their designated play area as if they were hyperactive yet obedient children in one of those McDonald’s playpens. By the time you read this, Yellowstone National Park’s bison population will likely number 100 fewer bison than it did only a week ago and possibly even less than that. This is because on Tuesday, March 4, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) trapped over 100 buffalo near the north entrance of the park. The agencies sent 47 of the wild bison off to the slaughterhouse on Tuesday and, according to the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), stated that they planned to send a similar number to their deaths on Wednesday.
The Department of Livestock has expressed concerns that if bison are allowed to roam freely outside of their designated park area, they may infect the state’s cattle with brucellosis.
“What’s fueling this whole thing is the state of Montana’s fear of brucellosis and of losing the ability to offer public lands to ranchers in the state,” said Jonas Ehudin of the BFC. “We’re the only state in the nation that will not accept the APHIS definition of bull bison as low risk.”
APHIS, for those of you without acronym decoders, stands for Animal, Plant and Health Inspection Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The BFC is ripping mad because the Department of Livestock did not test the captured bison for brucellosis before shipping them off to slaughter.
“The Lamar Valley herd was almost completely wiped out back in 1997 and now these bison are being killed off again inside Yellowstone National Park without even being tested,” says BFC coordinator Mike Mease.
Currently, the BFC estimates that there are 4,000 bison in Yellowstone. The park is operating on a plan that calls for a bison cap of 3,000. Ehudin takes this number to task, saying, “It’s based on a National Academy of Sciences report [but]…there’s no source for that study.”
Ehudin sees the latest trappings and killings as part of a larger philosophical shift in the park’s stance on bison.
“They’re moving it away from brucellosis and toward population control,” he says.
So if the park is over the cap by 1,000 or so bison, will these 1,000 bison all be slaughtered? Ehudin believes that if the park decided upon such a massive killing, it would “feel justified” in doing so.
If the bison are causing a problem at their current location, slaughtering them may not be the only answer. For about 10 years, the Inter-tribal Bison Cooperative, a group of approximately 50 Montana tribes, has been attempting to convince the Department of Livestock and the Park Service to transplant what are considered “excess” bison to their reservations.
However, the spirit of the Old West may live on within these agencies, which, it seems, would rather kill the bison than give them to the tribes.
But Ehudin explains that the issue of bison migration goes well beyond political ping pong, and beyond, in fact, the bison themselves.
“Their migrations keep the ecosystem healthy,” he says. “Their hooves till the soil. They feed several species of animals. They take care of this place and to keep them in one small square and to contend that they are happy and healthy is to deny the rest of the ecosystem their important presence.”