To protest the slaughter of Yellowstone National Park bison, a 20-year-old man chained himself to a 50-gallon drum full of cement in the middle of the road to the Stephens Creek bison capture facility near the park's northern border on Thursday morning.
Comfrey Jacobs, from Grand Junction, Colo., was arrested by park rangers after spending about five hours chained to the 800-pound barrel. Jacobs has since been released on bond.
Jacobs' protest had no effect on daily operations, however, as three more horse trailers loaded with bison for shipment to slaughter left the Stephens Creek facility as his chains were being cut.
But those shipments left the bison corral empty, and the park's "management team is reviewing the situation" to determine whether more bison will be shipped this winter, said Al Nash, Yellowstone's chief of public affairs.
So far this winter, 581 bison have been removed from Yellowstone's herds. Out of that total, 258 bison have been shipped to slaughter for distribution to participating American Indian tribes while another 60 have been turned over to the USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service for research.
Montana-licensed hunters shot 31 bison this season, which is now over. Tribal hunters had killed 232 bison as of Thursday. Only the Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes are still hunting. The majority of the bison, 199, had been killed at the park’s northern border near Gardiner.
Yellowstone officials had wanted to remove 600 to 800 bison total in consecutive years to reduce the size of the park’s herds to meet the terms of an agreement with the state of Montana.
In a phone interview, Jacobs said he believes the shipment of bison to slaughter is an unethical way for the state of Montana, the National Park Service and participating American Indian tribes to treat the animals.
“I believe the Stephens Creek facility is completely unconstitutional and the area closure is meant to eliminate public oversight of the facility, i.e., capture and hazing,” he added.
Jacobs has been charged with disorderly conduct, breaking the area closure around the capture facility and interfering with government operations and was released on bond. He said he could face additional charges but won’t know until a hearing scheduled for Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at the park’s courtroom in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyo.
Stephany Seay, of the Montana-based bison advocacy group Buffalo Field Campaign, hailed Jacobs' protest. He had been volunteering for the group.
Seay said the Park Service has been frustrating her group’s attempts to document the treatment of bison while they are in the corrals, as well as not releasing timely information on the number of animals that have been shipped to slaughter.
“I don’t know why they are being so secretive,” she said, adding that the flow of information is the worst in the 10 years she’s been with BFC. “They’ve never been withholding information like they are now.”
Nash said the Park Service may not be issuing press releases detailing its actions in dealing with bison, but it is not withholding information when reporters call.
“We have a lot of different ways to reach the public,” Nash said.
The protest seemed to have had the desired effect of drawing attention to the plight of the bison. Since Jacobs’ arrest, the phone at BFC’s headquarters had been ringing steadily with calls from the media, Seay said.
“Hopefully it will help,” she said. “It’s a courageous thing to do.”
Jacobs said he acted on his own knowing that his actions “would have legal consequences.” He said he is giving up part of his freedom in the hope that bison would eventually gain theirs.
Seay said she remains determined to see Yellowstone’s bison gain greater freedom to roam outside the park, despite this winter's slaughter. According to BFC's tally, more than 7,600 bison have been killed in the past 29 years.
“I think things are slowly changing,” she said. “We’re dealing with a centuries-old range war. The question is whether the buffalo will survive until there’s time to make changes for them.”
Bison advocacy groups have decried the move to thin the park's herd, saying a target population of 3,000 to 3,500 bison is not based on the carrying capacity of the range. This summer the park’s bison herd was estimated at 4,600 animals.
Bison advocates would like to see the animals given more room to roam outside Yellowstone and a quarantine process enacted to transfer live animals without brucellosis to existing tribal bison herds. Those efforts have been fought by the livestock industry since many of the bison carry brucellosis, which can cause pregnant cattle to abort. Wild elk, which also contain the disease, do roam freely.