Rocky Mountain News
899 bison captured outside Yellowstone Park this winter
Controversial plan aimed at keeping brucellosis at bay
Becky Bohrer, Associated Press
BILLINGS, Mont. - State and federal officials captured
and sent to slaughter 899 bison from Yellowstone National Park that wandered
into Montana in search of forage this winter and spring.
That is the largest number since the winter of 1996-97,
when authorities killed 1,084 bison, park spokesman Al Nash said.
The bison are killed to stop the possible spread of the
cattle disease brucellosis, which infects some park bison.
"What happened this winter certainly has increased
attention to the challenges we all face with brucellosis risk management and
managing bison in the ecosystem," Nash said. "And it has again heightened
the discussion about the problem and is prompting people to look again at ways
to move this forward. And that's good."
However, the bison population heading into winter was
at its highest documented level - 4,900. In early March, park officials estimated
the population at 3,500, which took into account the normal death of bison because
of winter cold and starvation.
The Yellowstone herds remain above the park's target bison
population of 3,000, and they are now calving, which will increase the population
going into summer.
The bison were killed under a state-federal plan that
is aimed at reducing the potential spread of brucellosis from bison to cattle
in Montana. Brucellosis can cause cows to abort, and transmission could lead
to trade sanctions.
Activists argue that transmission from bison to cattle
has never been documented in the wild, but livestock industry leaders say the
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer intends to meet with state
and federal officials to discuss options to the slaughter, including greater
tolerance of bison and the buyout of grazing rights on lands near the park where
cattle are run, said his chief policy adviser, Hal Harper.
Schweitzer isn't convinced the current plan works well
for the long-term protection of the state's prized brucellosis-free status.
Last fall marked the first time in 15 years that Montana
held such a hunt, and Schweitzer favors the continued use of hunting.
"Both can be accomplished if we use common sense,"
Harper said of the hunt and preserving the state's brucellosis-free status.
It could be a hard sell: The current plan, signed in 2000,
took years to reach and remains controversial. Groups such as the Montana Stockgrowers
Association continue to urge agencies involved to eradicate brucellosis from
the greater Yellowstone area, something many bison activists consider impossible.
The Buffalo Field Campaign, devoted to protecting Yellowstone
bison, argues that it isn't a disease issue.
"For the livestock industry, again, it's about the
grass and who gets to eat it," said Stephany Seay, a spokeswoman for the
But Errol Rice, executive vice president of the stockgrowers group, said eliminating brucellosis from Montana cattle was a long, expensive endeavor, and the industry will go to "great lengths" to protect its brucellosis-free status.