A herd of bison grazes Aug. 3 in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park . A Montana legislative committee wants Native American tribes to be able to hunt bison inside Yellowstone National Park to better control herds of the animals that migrate into Montana during winter.
BILLINGS, Mont. — A Montana legislative committee that wants to limit Yellowstone National Park’s growing herds of bison from leaving the park sent a recommendation Thursday to park officials for Native American tribes to be allowed to hunt bison inside the park.
The committee’s letter to Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk came a day after members voted 9-7 in favor of the plan — even though there are no requests by the tribes to hunt inside the park.
Tribal representatives said Thursday they already have enough opportunities to hunt the animals outside the park.
“The idea of gunning down animals in the Lamar Valley or near Old Faithful is nothing the tribes have proposed or are considering,” said John Harrison, an attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Supporters of tribal bison hunts inside the park including Republican Sen. Theresa Manzella of Hamilton pitched the idea as a potential solution to the dilemma posed by bison leaving Yellowstone and getting onto private property.
Democrats objected, pointing out that no tribes have asked to hunt inside the park.
Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said longstanding policy prohibits hunting in national parks unless specifically authorized by Congress.
Any tribes wanting to assert treaty rights to hunt in Yellowstone would have to submit the request to the U.S. Justice Department for consideration, she said.
Stephanie Adams with the National Parks Conservation Association said state officials had missed an opportunity to push for expanded habitat for bison outside the park. Under a program in place since 2000, thousands of the animals have been captured and sent to slaughter after they enter Montana.
Several tribes with longstanding treaty rights hold annual bison hunts just outside Yellowstone’s boundary.
Those hunts have stirred controversy — with bison often shot immediately after stepping beyond the park boundary — while failing to reduce the size of Yellowstone’s herds. Yellowstone at last count had roughly 5,000 bison, a near-record level for the modern era.
Many Yellowstone bison carry a disease, brucellosis, that can be harmful to livestock and cause pregnant animals to prematurely abort their young. However, no bison-to-cattle transmissions of the disease brucellosis have been recorded.
Yellowstone rejected requests from former Gov. Brian Schweitzer to allow public hunting inside the park when the Democrat was still in office.
Yellowstone National Park officials started trapping bison Monday as part of an annual effort to kill hundreds of the area’s iconic animals through hunting or shipment to slaughterhouses.
Government agencies aim to drive down the bison population by as many as 900 this year to reduce the mammals’ centuries-old migration beyond the park’s boundaries and into Montana, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.
A plan calls for eventually culling bison in the park from about 5,000 down to 3,000.
Efforts to winnow the bison’s migration came after fears from Montana ranchers and landowners that the bison may vie with cattle for grazing space or transmit disease, according to the Associated Press.
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About half of Yellowstone’s bison have been exposed to brucellosis, an animal disease that causes abortion in cattle, AP reports. There are no recorded cases of it moving from bison to cattle.
“There is recognition by both disease regulators and wildlife managers that the risk of brucellosis transmission from bison to cattle is minute,” the National Park Service told Vice magazine last year.
In 1995, Montana sued the National Park Service over bison migration into the state. The settlement created a plan requiring hundreds of bison to be captured and killed each year.
A record-high 1,726 bison were captured in the park in 2008, according to AP, with most sent to slaughterhouses.
Meat and hides from the slaughtered bison are distributed among members of Native American Tribes, according to the National Park Service.
In 1902, the herd of bison in Yellowstone dwindled to as low as 23. The park now counts near-record levels of its bison, according to AP, which biologists cherish as genetically pure.
While hunters had killed more than 300 bison as of Sunday, the Chronicle reported, the park said it wasn’t enough to negate the need for regular capture and slaughter.
“We understand that many people are uncomfortable with the practice of capture and slaughter—we are too, so we’re looking for additional alternatives,” the Park Service said in a guide to the controversy on its site.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Jamie M. Woolsey of the law firm Fuller, Sandefer & Associates and two constitutional law professors filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of journalist Christopher Ketcham and wild bison advocate Stephany Seay, who are seeking access to Yellowstone Park’s controversial bison trapping operations that lead to the slaughter of hundreds of bison. The lawsuit argues that the First Amendment guarantees citizens and journalists reasonable, non-disruptive access to the publicly funded national park.
“It’s ironic that to benefit Montana ranchers grazing their cattle—an invasive species—Yellowstone Park has agreed to facilitate the capture and killing of 900 American bison, an iconic, native species,” Law Professor and ALDF Attorney Justin Marceau said.
Past accounts of similar bison killing operations have provided evidence of brutal treatment of the animals. The centerpiece of the park’s role in the slaughter is the Stephens Creek Capture Facility, which is located entirely within the national park. The bison are driven into the facility, held in pens, tested and eventually forced into trucks and transported to slaughter. In recent years, the park service reversed its previous policy that allowed members of the public to witness and document the operation—the park service itself shot video and photographs—and now proposes to offer only three supervised tours, including one when the trap facility at Stephens Creek was not in operation.
Yellowstone’s public information office also used to offer information on how many bison were captured, shipped to slaughter or injured each day. During the past two bison kills, however, the park delayed release of that information for two weeks.
“If the First Amendment right of access is to mean anything,” Marceau went on to say, “it means that citizens and journalists should have reasonable, non-disruptive access to their publicly-funded national park to observe and memorialize one of the most controversial uses of national park land imaginable.”
“No one wants their federal tax dollars to be used by park service rangers to abuse and kill the very animals the service is responsible for protecting,” Seay said. “The park service doesn’t want the public to see these shameful activities.”
Ketcham has written about the bison controversy for VICE, Harper’s and other magazines and websites. “I want full access to the operations,” he said, “so I can effectively report on the issue. I want to be able to see the suffering of these animals up close and thus bring readers up close.”
Although there were once tens of millions of bison throughout most of North America, today wild bison are ecologically extinct throughout their native range, with fewer than 5,000 living in and around Yellowstone National Park, the last continuously wild, migratory herds left in the nation. The animals are currently managed under the controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan; thousands of bison have been abused and killed through hazing, hunting, scientific experiments and capture-for-slaughter operations.
The purported reason for the enactment of the plan is that bison threaten to infect local cattle populations with brucellosis, a non-fatal disease originally brought to North America by European cows. Wild bison, however, have never transmitted the disease to cattle. In fact, no transmission from bison to cattle has ever occurred outside of a laboratory setting.
“Denying access to the park during this controversial publicly-funded wildlife slaughter campaign is very similar to the intent of ag-gag laws,” ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said. “Such laws ‘gag’ would-be whistleblowers, journalists and activists by making it illegal to record and disseminate photos or footage taken in agricultural operations. ALDF has successfully proven ag-gag laws are unconstitutional under he First Amendment and we are confident we will do the same in this case.”
The coalition of law professors, non-profit lawyers and private attorneys are joined by a team of top law students at the University of Denver and they are all eager to aggressively litigate the free speech rights of journalists seeking to document the trapping of bison within national park lands.
between Mammoth and Norris in Yellowstone National Park in November, 2013. (Neal Herbert/NPS Photo)
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – Members of the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) have signed a winter operations plan that aims to reduce the current population of 4,900 animals.
The announcement was made in a press release from Yellowstone National Park.
The park says that because the Yellowstone bison population has high reproductive and survival rates, it will be necessary to cull 600-900 animals to offset the population increase expected this year.
The population will be decreased using two methods, according to the IBMP:
(1) Public and tribal hunting outside the park
(2) Capturing bison near the park boundary and transferring them to Native American tribes for processing and distribution of meat and hides to their members.
The press release says that bison are a migratory species and they move across a vast landscape. When they are inside Yellowstone, they have access to all habitat. But in the winter, when some bison migrate to lower elevations outside the park in search of food, the surrounding states and some private landowners don’t offer the same access to habitat.
Wild bison are only allowed in limited areas outside of Yellowstone…
“Many people are uncomfortable with the practice of culling bison, including the National Park Service,” says Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk.
Yellowstone National Park proposes to kill roughly 1,000 wild bison this winter – mostly calves and females – as officials seek to curb the animals’ annual migration into Montana.
Park officials will meet Thursday with representatives of American Indian tribes, the state and other federal agencies to decide on the plan. It marks the continuation of a controversial 2000 agreement between Montana and the federal government that calls for killing bison to prevent the spread of disease to livestock.
Almost 5,000 bison roamed the park this summer. A harsh winter could drive thousands into areas of southwestern Montana.
Hunters, including from tribes with treaty rights in the Yellowstone area, are anticipated to kill more than 300 of the animals. Others would be captured for slaughter or research purposes.
The Boston Globe reports that after a herd of buffalo escaped from a farm in upstate New York, they were intentionally shot and killed:
Three men hired by the farm opened fire on the animals Friday afternoon in woods in the town of Coeymans, about 10 miles south of the capital. …
… They escaped Thursday from a farm across the Hudson River in the Rensselaer County town of Schodack. The owner believes they swam across the river to the town of Bethlehem, where they wandered across a busy stretch of Interstate 87 and into neighboring Coeymans.
Bison are incredible animals who once roamed the Great Plains in astounding numbers. According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Bison populations were estimated to be 30 million – 60 million in the 1500s. Today, those numbers are a fraction of their former glory – only 20,000 – 25,000 remain in small herds across the US. The Yellowstone National Park Respresentives have recommended 900 park bison be removed this winter through hunting and ship-to-slaughter methods. A better solution would be to relocate these animals to other herds…there is NO reason to kill them. Join us in making our voice heard for the Bison who shouldn’t have to perish!
(West Yellowstone MT)— Did you know that Yellowstone National Park and other government agencies behind the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) are planning to slaughter 900 buffalo this coming winter under the guise of “disease risk management” even though there has never been a documented case of a wild bison transmitting brucellosis—a bacterial disease that affects livestock and wildlife—to cattle?
In an effort to avert the bloodshed, Friends of Animals (FoA) and the Buffalo Field Campaign filed an emergency rulemaking petition Sept. 15 with the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to protect the genetic diversity and viability of the bison of Yellowstone National Park. They are requesting that the NPS and USFS undertake a population study and revise the IBMP to correct scientific deficiencies, make the plan consistent with the best available science, and follow the legal mandates the U.S. Congress has set. Until then, the groups are also requesting that the capture, removal or killing of bison at the Stephens Creek area of Yellowstone National Park and the Horse Butte area of the Gallatin National Forest be prohibited.
“Yellowstone National Park and other federal agencies are required to follow the best available science and not the latest political whims of Montana,” said Daniel Brister, executive director of Buffalo Field Campaign. “Our joint petition seeks redress to ensure the buffalo are protected for future generations. The IBMP currently is heavily weighted in favor of protecting the profits of the livestock industry at the expense and peril of our nation’s only continuously wild bison population.”
Every winter and spring, snow and ice cover the bison’s food and hunger pushes them to lower elevations across the park boundary in Montana. When they cross this arbitrary line, the buffalo enter a zone of violent conflict with ranchers. Last winter 653 bison were slaughtered, and back in the winter of 2007/2008, the largest scale wild buffalo slaughter, claimed the lives of 1,631 animals. At the turn of the 20th century, similar reckless behavior nearly drove bison to extinction.
“Slaughtering wild bison is the livestock industry’s way of eliminating competition and maintaining control of grazing lands surrounding Yellowstone National Park and across the west,” Brister said. “Montana’s livestock industry continues to use brucellosis to frighten and mislead the public into supporting its discrimination against bison. There has never been a single case of wild bison transmitting brucellosis to livestock.”
The IBMP was designed to be an adaptive management plan allowing for greater tolerance for bison as new information becomes available and conditions on the ground change, but no such tolerance has been afforded to the bison. Despite new scientific research showing that the Yellowstone population is comprised of distinct herds with unique genetics and behaviors, the agencies continue to treat Yellowstone bison as though they comprise a single homogeneous herd, Brister said.
“We want to make sure that each herd has a viable population number so that we are not starting to degrade the species,” said Mike Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “Right now they are managing the numbers based largely upon misinformation regarding the genetic viability of the herds. The data they are using is not the best available data right now. They are using data that doesn’t match up with what is the actual status of the herd populations in the park. The petition is asking the federal agencies responsible for protecting these animals make an effort to establish stronger scientific criteria to protect the viability of the remaining Yellowstone herds, and to stop slaughtering the last 4,000 genetically pure bison left in the United States.”
The Nez Perce tribe once hunted bison in what is now Yellowstone National Park, and some tribal leaders want to revive the practice, which ended with Western settlement and the near total extermination of the once-vast U.S. bison herds.
Today, remnants of the bison, or buffalo, herds still roam the grasslands and river valleys of Yellowstone, a huge park that covers parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
The park lands, in which hunting is illegal, once made up a key segment of the Idaho tribe’s traditional hunting grounds, and some Nez Perce leaders say they should again be able to hunt buffalo inside the park.
“Before there was a park, there was a tribe,” Nez Perce Chairman Silas Whitman said. [but for 100,000 years before there were tribes, bison roamed free of human hunting.] “Some of our members already feel we have the right to hunt in the park, but it hasn’t been exercised because we feel it would be remiss in going forward that way.”
After asserting hunting rights tied to historic treaties in recent years, the Nez Perce and three other tribes already hunt those bison that follow ancient migration routes outside the park and into Montana in search of winter range.
The Nez Perce have not yet formally requested hunting rights inside the park. Such a request would require extensive federal review, major changes to Yellowstone policies, and congressional action to modify a founding law that banned hunting or killing of buffalo and other wildlife there.
The prospect of hunting any of the 4,000 buffalo within Yellowstone boundaries is strongly opposed by animal advocates, who decry an existing culling program that allows hundreds of bison to be hunted and shipped to slaughter annually.
“Yellowstone is against any proposal to hunt in the park,” said David Hallac, chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources, the park’s science and research branch.
BISON MANAGEMENT CONTROVERSY
Whitman said the tribe would not force the issue by violating any of the park’s regulations but may seek to broach the topic with the U.S. Interior Department, which oversees the national park system, or perhaps lobby Congress “to request those changes be made”.
Management of Yellowstone bison has stirred controversy for decades. Killing of animals that wander into Montana in winter in search of food aims to keep in check a herd population whose size is determined by social tolerance rather than the ecosystem’s carrying capacity, Yellowstone officials said.
The culling is also designed to ease the worries of Montana ranchers who fear bison will transmit the cattle disease brucellosis, which can cause animals to miscarry, to cows that graze near the park.
That could put into jeopardy Montana’s brucellosis-free status, which allows ranchers to ship livestock across state lines without testing.
Marty Zaluski, Montana state veterinarian and member of a state, federal and tribal team that manages bison in and around Yellowstone, is a proponent of hunting in the park and told Reuters in February it needed to be “looked at more seriously as a possible solution”.
He said it would bring the herd closer to a population target of 3,000 to 3,500 and lessen the public outcry tied to slaughter of wayward buffalo.
But Yellowstone’s Hallac contends that hunting in the park, which draws 3 million visitors a year because of tourist attractions such as the Old Faithful geyser and the bison, would further complicate matters.
“Even a proposal to hunt in the park causes more problems than the dilemma it intends to solve,” he said. “These are America’s wildlife and a crucial part of our national heritage. To propose to hunt in a place established specifically to prevent animals from being hunted is bizarre.”