Puzzle piece purchased 

Just two weeks after a congressional report slammed the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) for failing to make progress in the decades-old imbroglio over Yellowstone bison, the U.S. Park Service—one of five agencies involved in the IBMP—pushed forward a deal that could make headway in the matter. The plan’s efficacy, however, remains in question with some bison advocates.

On April 17, the Park Service entered into a 30-year, $2.8 million land use agreement between wildlife officials and the Church Universal and Triumphant in Gardiner. The accord will allow a limited and meticulously controlled migration of wild bison from Yellowstone National Park through the church’s ranchland, which lies between the animals’ summer range and viable winter pasture.

A cattle herd on the ranch will be removed when the deal is finalized later this year. The IBMP forbids cow-to-buffalo contact due to fears among Montana cattlemen that such rendezvous could infect state herds with the bacterial infection brucellosis.

Proponents of the agreement have been waiting months—and, by some accounts, years—for federal funding to seal the deal. The $1.5 million Park Service contribution caps an ante pile started by a coalition of environmental groups last summer to lease the church’s grazing rights  (see “Time to CUT a Deal,” April 10).

“For a decade all parties have recognized a critical piece in solving bison, livestock, and brucellosis concerns has been [this] agreement,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer said last week. “Today we have made great progress on the disease-risk front, despite the foot-dragging by naysayers.”

Critics, including the West Yellowstone-based Buffalo Field Campaign, argue the plan does far too little to be heralded as a triumph. The agreement, which stipulates that animals allowed through church land will need to be tested and tagged, and the cows fitted with vaginal radio telemetry implants, doesn’t sound like any kind of progress for wild bison, the group says.

Buffalo Field Campaign leaders would not respond to requests for comment, but mocked the deal in a group press release, saying it does nothing to stop the ongoing slaughter of bison permitted by the IBMP.

The IBMP has proven a bone of contention since state and federal agencies formed it in 2000 to clear up jurisdictional scuffles on the buffalo front. The critical progress report, published April 2 by the Government Accountability Office, rebukes the various bureaucracies for, among other things, failing to provide the ungulates with winter grazing range. During this winter’s particularly harsh conditions on the Yellowstone plateau, IBMP-sanctioned officials, on behalf of the livestock industry, slaughtered 1,600 bison that had wandered out of the park in search of food.
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