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Too Many Yellowstone Bison Means 600-900 Will Be Culled


The Interagency Bison Management Plan partnership has decided that 600-900 bison must be culled from Yellowstone's herds this winter/Kurt Repanshek file photo

Concerned that there are too many bison in Yellowstone National Park, the Interagency Bison Management Plan partners have signed off on a proposal that calls for upwards of 900 of the iconic animals to be culled, either through a public hunt outside the park or through a trapping program to provide bison to Native American tribes.

Bison are a migratory species and they move across a vast landscape. In winter, some bison migrate out of Yellowstone to lower elevations outside the park in search of food. However, officials in Montana are concerned that bison could transmit brucellosis, a disease that can cause fetuses to be aborted, to livestock. As a result, bison are not allowed to roam unfettered in the state.

The size of the population and the level of tolerance outside the park are two issues often debated by the IBMP partners and their constituents.

“Many people are uncomfortable with the practice of culling bison, including the National Park Service,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk in a release. “The park would gladly reduce the frequency and magnitude of these operations if migrating bison had access to more habitat outside the park or there was a way to transfer live bison elsewhere.”

Currently, it is against state and federal laws to move any wild bison exposed to brucellosis anywhere except to approved meat-processing or research facilities. The park is currently studying the feasibility of developing quarantine facilities for bison that would allow animals that repeatedly test negative for brucellosis to be sent alive to other public, private, or tribal lands for conservation, hunting, or food production.

Capture operations this winter will occur at the Stephens Creek facility near the park’s north entrance. This facility is operated on behalf of all IBMP partners to meet population reduction objectives. For safety reasons, the facility is closed to the public year-round. Under this year’s IBMP operations plan, capture will begin no earlier than February 15, and will cease no later than March 31.

In 1995, Montana sued the National Park Service because bison were migrating out of the park onto state lands. A court-mediated settlement was reached in 2000 creating the Interagency Bison Management Plan. Today, the park and seven other partners implement this plan, which was approved by the secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture and the Montana governor.

The park and the state of Montana are working together to update the current bison management plan. While the existing plan has been effective at preventing brucellosis transmission and maintaining a viable population, the park believes a new plan is needed. There is new data about general biology and disease prevalence, and public opinion is shifting toward more tolerance for bison in Montana. You can find more information about this planning process at the NPS PEPC website.

The cooperating agencies operating under the IBMP are the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Montana Department of Livestock, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the InterTribal Buffalo Council, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Nez Perce Tribe.



We don't thin people  -- oh, wait, we do.  It's called mass shootings.

Doesn't make this right, though.

eyes roll

Kurt, save for the opening sentence, all of this language was copied directly from Yellowstone National Park's press release, issued on January 5, 2016.  It seems a bit unethical to claim that this livestock industry propoganda was written "by" you.  As to the content, it would behoove your web site and your readers to not regurgitate the political spin of what Yellowstone and the IBMP accomplices  are feeding us.  It is wrong to accept what they say as fact, wrong to trust industry and the government that serves them.  To not question the motives of the slaughter of ecologically extinct American bison is to do a great disservice to the buffalo, the land, the integrity of your online magazine, and your readers.  To not question the motives or hold the Park Service accountable for the systematic destruction of native wild bison is unforgivable.  To be clear, there are not "too many" bison in Yellowstone.  Even the Park's own science determines this to be true.  Their carrying capacity study concluded that Yellowstone alone can sustain upwards of 6,200 bison; public and private lands outside of the park can sustain thousands more, and that's just in the immediate Greater Yellowstone Area.  The IBMP cohorts aim to drive down the world's most important bison population to serve livestock interests.  Period.  And by not questioning the motives of the IMBP, you, too are serving livestock interests, not national parks or their treasures.  And, speaking for the buffalo, there are simply not enough.  From tens of millions down to a few thousand does not constitue "over population" or "surplus", it indicates being threatened with extinction.  And to cater to the whims of the whiny private property owners who just don't like buffalo is anthropocentric and selfish.  People don't get to pick and choose which native animals live on the land they "own." Indeed, there are private property owners who *do* want to coexist with wild buffalo, and what about them?  Why should a few selfish individuals prevent the restoration of a keystone native wildlife species who is ecologically extinct throughout their native range?  And, please do not say that this is the way things are.  Things can change, and they do, and they will.  Also, there are people in the Hebgen Basin west of Yellowstone who do coexist quite well with the buffalo - they are a beautiful living classroom of coexistence.  Those who are doing the loud complaining are not actually the ones who live with buffalo (though we can make an exception for the infamous Hoppe clan in Gardiner).  The press release states that "officials in Montana are concerned that bison could spread brucellosis to cattle" something wild bison have never done.  Brucellosis originated in EurAsian cattle, it was brought to this country with invasive livestock, and the only times that brucellosis has been transmitted between bison and cattle has been induced by humans.  Though they -- like elk -- have been exposed to brucellosis, they have also developed resistance to this livestock disease.  Elk, on the other hand, have been implicated (I say implicated because I will never trust anything the DOL says) in transmitting brucellosis to livestock numerous times.  Not just in Montana, but also in Wyoming and Idaho.  Yet, elk are free to roam.  As they should be.  As the buffalo should be.  And, if brucellosis was really such a grave concern, why aren't the feedlots in Wyoming shut down?  Feedlots that are also bringing Chronic Wasting Disease closer to Montana.  You know as well as I do that this whole issue is about control, control over grass and who gets to eat it.  Control over the wild.  It has always been so since the colonial invasion brought industrial civilization to this country.  And as the holes in the brucellosis argument grow ever larger, the culture of death language turns towards killing "surplus" buffalo. There are no surplus buffalo.  We don't speak of surplus elk, and there are over 100,000 elk in Montana, roaming free with their brucellosis. There are no surplus buffalo.  The Yellowstone bison population encompass the last continuously wild, migratory bison left in this country and we should all be doing everything we possibly can to defend their lives and their right to roam.  In the love you express you have for our national parks, public lands, and the treasures they hold, I think you need to ask yourself whom you are serving when you spit out the propaganda written by the ones who are destroying those very things.   

Dear Stephany,

You're right, I didn't write the body of the story, and my byline appeared there by mistake.

As to some of your other points, if you've read the Traveler for more than a short while you know that we have touched on some of the concerns you raised. Indeed, last month we reported that Yellowstone's carrying capacity for bison is closer to 7,000, but livestock interests outside the park won't tolerate that number.

As efforts continue to evolve the bison management plan, the one factor that won't change is that Yellowstone can't exist as a biological island for the bison, the superintendent said.

“That is the bottom line. I think there is recognition of that, even though we do say, and it is true, that it is the largest nearly intact ecosystem in the temperate zone of, maybe it's in the world , certainly the United States," Superintendent Wenk said. "It’s not big enough. Whether it’s bison, whether it’s elk, whether it’s grizzly bears, any animal, basically they do migrate out in the winter due to the depth of the snow.”

I hope you understand that there's only one full-time writer here, and with 409 units of the National Park System and our goal to provide content on the system every day of the year, there's not the time nor the resources to dig deeply into each and every story that merits it. As a result, many times we try to alert folks to what is going on and, when time and priorities allow, revisit an issue and dig into it. 

We did that last year with the threat oil trains pose to national parks, a problem that reaches from coast to coast:

We also looked into the problems increasing visitation are having on parks:

And the need for a marine reserve zone at Biscayne National Park:

And the rebirth of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique:

And whether a national park should be established in northern Maine:

And there are more examples.

I understand how dear this issue is to your organization, but there are other groups that have their own priorities, whether it involves ORVs in the parks, NPS management woes, mountain bike access, Florida panther survival, visiting the parks, and on and on and on. Trying to juggle all these various issues can be akin to a fool's errand, but we do the best we can and I hope you can come to appreciate that.

Here's just a quick glance at some of the Yellowstone bison stories we've generated:

Like BFC, we rely heavily on reader contributions to see that the Traveler stays online. We'd love to count you among the contributors.

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