According to this morning’s update from Buffalo Field Campaign Outreach, 120 genetically distinct and valuable bison from the nation’s only continuously free-roaming, wild and migratory herd, have already lost their lives to placate both surrounding ranchers and public-lands ‘welfare’ ranchers. The stated reasons are to stop the possibility of transmitting brucellosis to domestic stock, which fear-mongerers misrepresent as a hazard of having bison herds nearby. In fact this is a disease originally brought over by European cattle and while many bison are now infected , the zoönosis is actually spread via domestic cattle or wild elk. In fact, one would be more concerned about domestic cattle and sheep infecting our priceless native animals. Yet misinformation is being spouted by the livestock lobby in order to stir hysteria around bison to justify their removal. Not only that, but the roundup is being conducted under a cloak of disturbing secrecy. And it’s not just bison being targeted on our public lands.
There is a crisis going on in the west, and it threatens to wipe out some of America’s most beloved, unique and imperiled species from bison to wild horses to wolves. Worse, it is entirely avoidable, if agencies would stop pandering to the demands of special interests who make up a fraction of the US population but feel entitled to destroy the resource for the rest of us, forever.
Demanding safe access for their domestic cattle and sheep, livestock owners are pushing to exterminate bison and wild horses from ranges on public lands and in National Parks, claiming that American bison and wild horses ‘compete’ with their private herds. These same ranchers get taxpayer-funded assistance destroying any native and rightful (even federally protected) predators who might, understandably, see these tasty helpless domestic animals as easy meals. Yet owners are not required to oversee or protect their livestock in any way. It seems to be simply a free-ride on the back of the American tax payer.
Next, enter the hunters, wanting to artificially inflate numbers of elk and other game animals to shoot, aggressively persecuting magnificent native predators (wolves, mountain lions, bears) which dare to feed (as nature intended) on the herds. Whereas wolves, for instance, strengthen these herds by culling the weakest, hunters do the reverse, selecting the biggest, healthiest and most beautiful (those sporting the most impressive racks) for extermination – Leaving the gene pool poorer. They are unintentionally ‘selecting’ for scrawnier, less healthy and less attractive descendants of the game they claim to love.
Add to this the extractive industries (drilling/fracking/logging/mining etc) that want any protected species out of the way, so as to open every last fragment of public and national lands to exploitation, and it’s alarmingly evident that, indeed, this is a serious, urgent crisis for biological diversity, the environment and the American people. Yet it’s a crisis being largely ignored by the media, even with the current militant takeover of a federal bird sanctuary and wildlife refuge in Oregon, who’s members, incidentally, were in part upset because they were being asked to pay a tiny fee for the livestock they were grazing on public lands.
During the bison culls, mothers and calves are separated or killed, family bonds are torn apart, animals are injured, wounded, terrified, hazed, harassed, penned up, tested and then sent to barbaric slaughter. These are live animals, not walking meat. They have deep emotions, strong family and social bonds and sensitive nervous systems which feel pain, fear, and stress. This treatment of an American symbol which was, with great effort, snatched back from the brink of extinction, is unjustified and unconscionable.
The bison crisis, in time, could undermine decades of restoration efforts by the federal government and American people. So again, it is domestic livestock which endanger native species, rather than the other way around, which begs the question ‘why are domestic animals permitted on public or wilderness lands at all?.’ The fight is becoming monumental as advocates for wilderness and our iconic wild bison battle to stop what is expected to be a mass slaughter of 900 of these important animals, being conducted, suspiciously, out of the public eye and with limited or no media access.
At the same time, the highly contentious S. 659 Bi-Partisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 (now of 2016), aims to lift Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in 4 states, but even more, hopes to weaken or eviscerate the ESA itself. Safeguarding biodiversity apparently presents an obstacle to unbridled development of resources in fragile natural areas – places rightfully protected due to designated protected species. So does the prospect of banning lethal lead from ammunition and fishing gear. Yes, lead, the same stuff that’s causing all the trouble with Flint’s water. And there are plenty more terrible proposals in the Sportsmen’s Act. Unlike the supporters of this bill, most of us feel there need to be true sanctuaries, places completely protected from hunting, trapping, fishing, roads and other damaging human activities. If this bill goes through, the users win, leaving most of the wildlife and wilderness and public lands in the USA at the mercy of trophy hunters (who vote to make game farms of National Parks), industry and the states. As we all know, industry is a very poor steward of wildlife and the environment. So, in many cases, are the states.
Wolf populations, once hunted to extirpation in the continental US and not yet fully recovered, suffered debilitating setbacks after their welfare was entrusted to the states a few years back, a debacle in which adults were trapped, gut-shot and allowed to linger in pain, puppies clubbed or gassed in their dens, packs (families) mowed down by helicopter gunners. Wolves, even in designated wilderness areas, mercilessly hunted down and destroyed. The insidious amendment to the Sportsmen’s Act that would assure no future judicial review seems to be unconstitutional, at best. How, in a Democracy, can a lethal bill affecting wildlife owned not only by all Americans but the world, be presented as the final word with no possibility of future discussion?
If there is any question of hunters being out of line in scapegoating wolves (claiming that wolves are ‘decimating elk herds’ and leaving hunters with nothing to shoot), see this disturbing article about the problem of elk overpopulation in those places where wolves have been eliminated.
In 1971 the THE WILD FREE-ROAMING HORSES AND BURROS ACT OF 1971 (PUBLIC LAW 92-195) was enacted to forever protect and preserve our spectacular and beloved Mustangs and other wild herds. However, the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is capitulating, again, to private interests (hunters, grazers and extraction industries) and have begun systematically removing wild horses. The roundups are excruciating; many equine families and friendships torn apart, horses injured, sometimes killed (or later dying as a result of the chase), the survivors stockpiled in pens, at taxpayer expense, sometimes for the rest of their lives – All to clear the range for the millions of privately-owned cattle and sheep being raised on public land for personal profit.
Cattlemen will claim horses ‘ruin the range’ and out-compete their livestock. In truth, it is the privately-owned domestic cattle and sheep being released (for profit) on our public lands, that are over-grazing, causing erosion and contamination of surface water and general loss of biodiversity on our national land management areas.
Even if some of these horses manage to get adopted and live out their (albeit disrupted and now confined) lives, most end up at the mercy of so-called ‘kill buyers’. Just like it sounds, these hapless wild horses end up facing brutal handling, stress, grim and abusive shipping and grotesque, painful and completely inhumane slaughter where they are butchered for dog food and even human consumption. Some are even slated for highly dangerous and invasive sterilization operations (experimental spaying of mares) that is unheard of in horses and could threaten not just individual health but herd dynamics and stability, as well. The helicopter operators who fuel this tragic slaughter pipeline are private, for-profit vendors whose only concern is making the most money they can in the shortest time. One way or the other, through removal, killing or sterilization, the intent is for our cherished and iconic herds to be whittled down to a fragmented token population – If that much. This is a nightmare for our wild horses and an affront to the billions of Americans who fight to protect them.
Many of the imperiled herds are of important Spanish and other rare heritage – precious bloodlines that need to safeguarded from loss. The outright genocide of these self-sustaining herds is contrary to the spirit and intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and against the fervent wishes of a vast majority of stakeholders who take nothing from these lands for personal gain yet pay their taxes toward preserving these last expanses of wilderness and the wildlife that live on them.
By now the common denominator in all these public-lands genocides, is clear: The massive driving forces behind the loss of biodiversity and persecution of our native wildlife boils down to those who want to use (and use up) the land for personal gain, against the wishes, and without the knowledge of, the majority of Americans. The livestock, hunting and extraction lobbies (logging, drilling. mining etc) carry an inordinate amount of weight with politicians when it comes to managing lands, and wildlife, that a far greater number of stakeholders want to see preserved in perpetuity.
To stop the Sportsmen’s Act, and in particular the wolf de-listing amendment, follow this link and vote OPPOSE.
To get involved in helping bison, wild horses, wolves and other native species, and deepen your knowledge, please see this list of helpful links.
Buffalo Field Campaign
The Cloud Foundation
Wild Horse Preservation
Howling for Wolves
Western Watersheds Project
Center for Biological Diversity
ALDF (Animal Legal Defense Fund)
The Wildlife News