HELENA, Montana, April 29, 2002 (ENS) - Any bison that wander outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park will be removed from the park's herd and slaughtered for the rest of the calving season, the Montana Department of Livestock said last week.
Under the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP), if there are more than 3,000 bison in the park by late winter or early spring, Montana may kill bison found outside the park without testing them for brucellosis. Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that causes bison, cattle, elk and other hoofed mammals to spontaneously abort.
Montana and other states that border Yellowstone attempt to prevent the transmission of brucellosis to cattle herds by hazing bison that leave the park back across park borders. If that tactic fails, the bison may be captured and tested for brucellosis, and if they test positive, they may be slaughtered.
Because the Yellowstone herd was measured in February at 3,300 bison, above the target set by the IBMP, the Montana Department of Livestock has opted to skip the testing step and just remove any bison found outside the park. The IBMP was developed by the state of Montana, the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
"The decision to begin removing bison from the herd without brucellosis testing in the field was based on the large number of bison outside the Park and the fact that calving has begun," said Montana state veterinarian Arnold Gertonson.
Montana officials are also concerned by the confirmation that a cattle herd in Idaho, which was grazing on pasture shared by brucellosis infected elk, has tested positive for the disease.
"This is a strong indication that our greatest concerns about the transmission of brucellosis from wildlife to domestic cattle herds is a very real possibility," said Montana Governor Judy Martz on April 20. "This proves that we must step up our efforts to eradicate brucellosis in wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Area."
Of a total of 35 bison captured last week, two were released - one that had previously tested negative for brucellosis and been radio collared for a research project, and one cow that gave birth while in captivity. The rest will be slaughtered.
Critics of the brucellosis management tactics used by Montana note that documented cases of transmission of the disease from wildlife to domestic cattle are few. Most experts agree that brucellosis can only be transferred through amniotic fluid or aborted fetal tissue, yet many of the animals that are being hazed or slaughtered are male, non-pregnant females, or females too young to become pregnant.
Conservation groups point out that most bison captured outside the park are still on public lands, such as national forest lands where ranchers can buy grazing rights for their cattle.
"The public lands surrounding Yellowstone should be managed for native species, not cows - as they were intended," said Jim Coefield of the Ecology Center in Missoula, Montana. "Wild buffalo hold a special place in the American public's hearts and heritage. They need room to roam outside Yellowstone Park on federal lands to survive."