You are here

Yellowstone's Killing Fields


    Shoot first.
    That appears to be the position Montana officials are taking with upwards of 300 bison that have wandered out of Yellowstone National Park near West Yellowstone, Montana.
    Beginning Thursday, wranglers on hoof, possibly in the air, and behind the wheel of trucks will round up the bison -- adults and calves just weeks old -- and send them off to slaughter.
Yellowstone_bison_calives    Why? Because of the possibility they might be carriers of brucellosis, a disease that can cause cattle to abort their fetuses.
    The unknown is whether these bison even carry the disease. And according to the Buffalo Field Campaign, a grassroots group that strives to halt the slaughter of Yellowstone's free-roaming bison, the bison will be killed without any tests being conducted to determine whether they carry brucellosis.
    Yellowstone officials, meanwhile, are not interceding.

    Members of the Buffalo Field Campaign attended Tuesday's emergency meeting of the Montana Board of Livestock at which the decision to kill the bison was made. They say that when asked whether trucking the bison back into Yellowstone was possible, park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis replied, "It has never been a policy of the Interagency Bison Management Plan to haul bison into the park."
    Clearly, a solution needs to be reached that both placates Montana's livestock interests and does not hand an automatic death penalty to any Yellowstone bison that naturally head to lower ground in the winter. The concern for such a solution has been heard in Washington, D.C., where earlier this spring U.S. Representative Nick Joe Rahall held a hearing into the management of Yellowstone's bison herds.
    At that hearing it was pointed out that there has never been a documented case of brucellosis being transmitted from bison to cattle. It also was noted that officials from the park and the three surrounding states are at least four years behind the schedule they established in the Interagency Bison Management Plan for separating cattle and bison. In particular, it was noted that that plan required by the winter of 2002/2003 that "cattle no longer graze in the winter on certain private lands north of Yellowstone National Park and west of the Yellowstone River to minimize the risk of brucellosis transmission from bison to cattle..."
    And yet, bison that have moved west of the park, in an area where no cattle currently are being grazed, are being unceremoniously led off to slaughter.
    The National Parks Conservation Association has proposed
a four-pronged approach to dealing with bison, brucellosis, and cattle. That approach includes additional bison range north of Yellowstone on land owned by the Church Universal and Triumphant; creating a "brucellosis classification 'sub-region' within the greater Yellowstone region; doing a better job of separating cattle and bison that move out of Yellowstone, and; developing an effective brucellosis vaccine for cattle and bison.

    (Photo courtesy of Buffalo Field Campaign)


Much of this has been precipitated by the discovery of brucellosis in a herd of cattle in far off Bridger, Montana. The entire herd of cattle is to be destroyed. No one believes that bison caused this. Of course, the slaughter might have happened anyhow since bison are still outside of Yellowstone's boundaries after a certain date. None of this actually does anything about brucellosis (and that's assuming anything SHOULD be done). Bison and elk with brucellosis continue to reproduce. Cattle, as you mention, continue to be in lands adjacent to areas bison wander. And, there's a sense that even if you moved cattle somewhere else, that one of these days there would still be a conflict. This is truly a clash of ideologies and cultures; it's never been about science (and I'm one of the few who doesn't think it should be about science - science only clarifies the boundaries of ethical disputes; it does not solve them). What's forgotten almost is the cattle. In a fight that's set up as bison v. rancher; cattle are the prisoners of a system that assumes that people have a right to make a living any way they choose. Of course, the people making that living are often not of the highest means themselves (some are, some aren't, many are in between), and it's easy and appropriate to point at trade agreements like NAFTA, and large multinational corporate interests as the ones who have the most to gain by erasing the rancher from the scene. One essay I linked to in the Yellowstone Newspaper that I work online on my site used that line of argument to suggest the need for a compromise. Yet, that misses the point that the cattle are not simply trading pieces (and nor are the bison - and nor are people for that matter). This is not an issue simply about compromise. It's about confronting values and confronting the consequences of those values head on and honestly. As for me, I am sickened by what's apparently imminent. Nothing ever changes, and the absurdity goes on and on. That's why I said the Democratic Congress would not provide the radical new wind needed because the issue is not partisan; it's systemic. It's related to much more than the people I deal with recognize. I believe fervently that a wild roaming bison population is the antithesis to centuries of destruction we have forced upon this continent. Yes, there are negative consequences (even if they aren't the ones the livestock industry would lead everyone to believe). However, none of the consequences can be as incoherent as the absolute control over life, over the ways living beings live, and the capitalizationof that life that exists. Wild bison mess up the civilized agrarian aesthetic. That's a big plus. As for the ways people will then capitalize on that reality (Yellowstone Clubs, big game hunts, wildlife viewing economies), that's certainly a problem, but it's not a problem that should convince us that we should continue playing god with the wandering herds. Dismayed, Jim

Ah, the brucellosis boogeyman strikes again!

This is clearly a policy to appease the so called happy rhinestone cowboy types and there gun loving buddies. Remember, a happy hunter is some one with a huge gut pile. Enjoy your slaughter!

Yeeeeeeeeee-hawwwwwww! Round 'em up cowboys!! Buffalo steaks!!!!

update on story: There's been a delay in the slaughter. Of course, that means that they'll try hazing one more time, as if hazing is all right, leaving us happy that at least they're not dead. What a hopeless charade. I can't feel good about any of it. We're a long way (though not that long in time) from the age when Nez Perces and Bannocks crossed Yellowstone TO GET to the bison herds. Now, bison are called "renegade" in the AP story for moving closer to their natural range - instead of confined to the cold, mountainous environs of packaged for public consumption Yellowstone National Park. Bison slaughter delayed amid concern for calves

Hey Jimmy...they are ANIMALS.... I say agin...Yeeeeeeee-hawwwww! Round 'em up, rawhide!!

Apparently ranchers and politicians alike and the so called enviorimental-conservations activist have all lost their minds.Simple solution herd the bison back into the destinated area,or simply allow nature(god)to do his work.test the bishon and come up with an anitidote.merly by the time a solution is so called figured out there won't be no more catte,bison,elk,wildlife in general or even human beings simply grow up,and do what is right and stop playing school children games.

Montana and the Park Service announced today that these buffalo will not be slaughtered but will be trucked back to Yellowstone (at least those that come back after the last hazing operation). BFC is touting this as a victory; in a way, it is since the needless slaughter did not happen. Yet, this is only a small victory, if it is one at all. The bison want to expand their range; they shouldn't be artificially trucked back to Yellowstone to eat more range. Bison live, but there will be consequences, first of which is that we still think we can play god and make everyone happy. I sometimes think Schweitzer is worse than Racicot and Martz in that he props up the myth that everyone can be kept happy. Well, I'm not. I can't celebrate this; I am relieved that the animals will live, but I'm not going to blow up a tactical victory into more than it is. This shouldn't be allowed to stand as an acceptable precedent for dealing with this situation. Even so, a lot of grassroots volunteers have some reason to believe that they have helped make a difference for the moment in this struggle, and that has to be empowering and encouraging. It will only get harder, though, when images of calves that might die won't be enough. I think they realize that, but I hope we do as well.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide