Bison

Yellowstone National Park has extended the comment period on its bison quarantine environmental assessment.

HANNAH POTES/Gazette Staff

The Billings Gazette editorialized in support of creating a brucellosis testing facility on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. (“An Alternative to Yellowstone Bison slaughter” Feb. 14). Rather than addressing the root problem —poor federal management practices that has led to a severe overpopulation of bison in the park — the Gazette advocates simply moving the problem somewhere else.

It’s a ludicrous proposition. It won’t fix what’s wrong at Yellowstone National Park. And worse, it will create the exact same problem in northeastern Montana.

And let’s correct one big point the Gazette got wrong. These are not animals that have been proven brucellosis free. That’s the whole point of a “quarantine facility;” it’s a place where they’ll be tested to see if they have the disease.

It’s like saying I’m going to take care of my leafy spurge infestation by transferring a few hundred plants over to my neighbor’s pasture. Rule one in preventing disease transfer is to isolate the disease.

We know from experience that transferring park bison somewhere else won’t fix the problem. It’s been done before, to the Turner Ranch. And despite the quarantine of a few hundred animals there, the overpopulation in the park has persisted.

The last thing we should do is take animals that have been exposed to the disease brucellosis and transfer them to far-flung areas of the state, as the Gazette suggests.

Mismanagement of park bison has been a huge problem for ranchers near Yellowstone National Park — just ask anyone with an operation in the Designated Surveillance Area. Will the next step be a second DSA around the Fort Peck reservation?

This proposed transfer is doubly problematic because the bison in question would be classified as wild free-roaming bison, not livestock. That distinction makes all the difference in the world.

A livestock classification means that some entity is responsible for the animals. If they get out onto neighbor’s property then there’s someone to call to come and get them. And moreover, there’s someone liable to pay for any damage they cause.

It’s the opposite for wild bison. If they roam onto your property, then you eat the cost of any damage they cause, which can be substantial. As wildlife, there’s no one to call to come get them. Like any other wildlife, as a landowner you’re expected to tolerate them—but of course, bison are not like other wildlife.

There would be far less opposition to this proposal if the Fort Peck Tribe were allowed to take YNP bison that had been quarantined and tested brucellosis-free, and if those bison were classified as livestock, not as wild, free-roaming animals. It’s simply short-sighted to suggest locating additional brucellosis testing facilities outside of the current DSA area, and transporting untested bison across the state.

The controversy comes with the mule-headed position by others — Montana FWP, the Park Service and myriad NGOs — that park bison must remain wild and free roaming. As long as that position persists, then any transferred bison can reasonably be expected to eventually end up on neighboring property and become a big problem for someone who never wanted them in the first place.

The Gazette got this one wrong. Transferring wild, free-roaming bison away from the park won’t fix any problems; it’ll actually make things worse in Montana.

We need to put this notion of establishing wild, free-roaming bison herds in Montana to rest.

Mark Robbins, of Roy, is the founder of Property Owners of Montana. The National Park Service is gathering public comments through Feb. 26 on an environmental assessment of alternatives that include transferring some bison that test negative for brucellosis to a quarantine facility.

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