Subscribe for 17¢ / day
Editorial: Bureaucracy won't resolve bison dispute
VICTOR ADY/Gazette Staff

Gazette Opinion

The Endangered Species Act won't settle the decades-old controversies over Yellowstone bison.

A week ago, the Buffalo Field Campaign, Fund for Animals, Ecology Center, Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers and the Humane Society of the United States sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Interior, demanding substantial changes in how bison are managed in the national park. If changes aren't made soon, the letter said, the groups will petition to protect Yellowstone bison under the ESA.

Wildlife vs. livestock Thus another statutory salvo was fired in the battle over bison. We don't want another bureaucracy, the ESA, looming over this contentious wildlife-livestock issue.

Yellowstone is unique. Bison and cattle can be largely separated in this particular environment. One reasonable step taken recently was the swapping of a cattle-grazing allotment on public land on a peninsula in Hebgen Lake. From now on, bison should be able to roam the peninsula and the ranchers will have grazing for their livestock away from this buffalo migration area.

Common-sense decisions Similarly, the park's northern border is surrounded by substantial tracts of federal lands and relatively few cattle. Common sense agreements with federal and state agencies and local cattlemen working together can come up with creative, reasonable strategies to allay concerns about brucellosis exposure while avoiding wholesale slaughter of bison.

Last November, the bison population was estimated at 3,800 animals. So far this winter and spring, 231 bison have been sent to slaughter from Stephens Creek near Gardiner. And at least 25 other bison are known to have died elsewhere from natural causes, motor vehicle accidents or management action.

The Yellowstone bison population today may be higher than it ever was naturally. Historic estimates have several hundred bison in the area at the time it was designated a park in 1872. In the next 30 years, poachers virtually annihilated the species. The remnant population of about two dozen at the turn of the 20th century was augmented with captive bison from Montana and Texas herds. They were ranched in Yellowstone like cattle for the next 60 years before "natural" regulation was introduced.

Sound science needed Bison aren't in danger of becoming extinct in Yellowstone. But their "managers" continue to act on unproven agricultural agency and industry fears of disease transmission. The continued slaughter of these wild animals as they follow natural instincts to migrate toward winter forage contradicts Yellowstone's mission of preserving America's natural national treasures.

A quarantine facility and additional research into the science of brucellosis transmission and prevention are essential to the long-term solution. The answers to the bison problem are common sense and sound science.