Great Falls Tribune
Editorial: It's time to break the cycle, solve bison problem
It's the regular cycle of news:
Rivers dry up or flood; hurricanes pummel coasts; fires scorch forests and
grasslands; tornadoes pound the Midwest; politicians pontificate; and bison
wander from Yellowstone National Park, often fatally and controversially.
With a predictability that rivals any cyclical news event, the continuing dispute
over how to deal with Yellowstone's overpopulation of bison spans three decades,
and by some measures the issue sometimes seems to get no closer to resolution.
The latest cycle of the running story made a bigger blip on the news radar
because the number of bison shipped to slaughter this past winter totaled 899.
For the bison, that's the deadliest winter since 1,084 were killed nine years
We don't have a problem with that. In fact, we'd suggest that if previous range
managers' estimates of the optimal herd size are correct, then the number shipped
to slaughter should have been closer to 2,500.
That's because the park's bison population going into winter was estimated
at 4,900, roughly double the size of herd that managers say the range in the
park can comfortably support.
In any case, Gov. Brian Schweitzer is right to want to convene a meeting of
the many state and federal agencies with a stake in the fate of the bison.
The issue has been a thorn in the side of at least four Montana governors,
the Park Service, wildlife managers, animal rights groups and livestock organizations.
In addition to the fate of individual, wooly symbols of the American West,
the brucellosis-free status of Montana's cattle herd also is thought to be at
That's because many of the park's bison carry the disease, and while no one
has demonstrated that brucellosis passes from bison to cattle, the fear that
it canis everpresent.
Everything should be on the table at such a multijurisdictional meeting, including
the possibility of buying out the relative handful of cattle-grazing leases
in the area right around the park.
Although news stories about the bison issue seem repetitive from year to year,
there has been progress.
A number of details remain to be sorted out - including large ones such as
But if agencies and landowners agree, maybe, finally, we can break the regular cycle of this news story.