June 20, 2006
Livestock groups turn up opposition to Schweitzer's bison plans
BOZEMAN -- Two of the state's largest livestock groups are turning up their
opposition to Gov. Brian Schweitzer's proposals regarding the management of
bison that leave Yellowstone National Park each year.
The Montana Farm Bureau issued a new study that maintains the threat of the
spread of the disease brucellosis to cattle is too great to allow bison any
extra room to roam outside the park. And the Montana Stockgrowers Association
separately issued a policy statement saying it opposes removing any cattle from
areas outside the park to accommodate wandering bison.
The documents outline positions both groups have expressed previously. Members
of those groups and others have concerns about allowing park bison to roam outside
the park, for fear the animals could spread brucellosis to cattle and threaten
the state's brucellosis-free status.
"This is the same line they've drawn in the sand forever," said Dick
Dolan, of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a conservation group that advocates
for more space for bison. "It's unfortunate they're not willing to move
Schweitzer has been touting an idea that would pay ranchers in bison "mixing
zones" near the park for their grazing rights and then remove the cattle.
Then there would be a hunting season for several months, with more focus on
killing female bison to help lower the overall population.
Park officials, in early March, estimated the bison population at 3,500.
Schweitzer's concept has been popular with hunting and environmental groups,
but not with livestock interests, which say the plan does not address eradicating
Losing the state's brucellosis-free status would cost the ranching industry
somewhere between $4 million and $16 million in extra expenses, mostly for labor
and disease testing, the Montana Farm Bureau report concludes.
In addition, because brucellosis carries such a stigma among ranchers, the
presence of the disease could reduce cattle prices by somewhere between $5 million
and $26 million, the report says.
"The National Park Service must take responsibility for animals under
their jurisdiction or pay for the losses incurred by their failure to do so,"
the report concludes.
Jake Cummins, executive director of the Farm Bureau, said his group's report
has been in the works for months.
"None of this is intended as any criticism of the governor," he said.
"We just have a different perspective."
Cummins called on the Park Service to manage Yellowstone "like a ranch."
"Why not keep your animals inside your boundary?" he said. "We
want them to keep their animals in the ranch just like we do ours."
Schweitzer told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle he will move forward with his idea.
"If there are people who don't want to cooperate, it's their prerogative,"
he said in a telephone interview.
The Stockgrowers Association called for sticking with the current bison management
plan, which relies on repeated hazings plus the capture and slaughter of bison.
It costs about $1 million a year.
Removing cattle "sets a bad precedent," according to Stockgrowers
Executive Vice President Errol Rice. "Every time there's a conflict they
(the cattle) are the sacrificial lamb."
Schweitzer has said that doesn't work. Over recent years, it resulted in the
doubling of the park's bison herd, which means a doubling of infected animals.
The Farm Bureau study called for "zero tolerance for bison outside the
park" until brucellosis and private property issues are completely addressed.