Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Annual Bison Slaughter May Kill 900 Buffalo

It may be a measure of this nation's schizophrenia that while conservationists struggle to reintroduce bison onto an empty western landscape that was once their home, the Park Service and the State of Montana have rounded up to nine hundred buffalo and caged them in secret corrals where they await slaughter starting Monday. This annual exercise in cruel excess is to protect Montana's cattle ranchers from the almost non-existent threat of brucellosis. While theoretically possible in the lab, transmission from bison to cattle has never been documented in the field. The argument is so discredited that officials are shifting their argument to "surplus" bison that need to be killed in order to preserve Yellowstone Park. That argument is not mentioned when it comes to elk which also carry the disease. Biologists think Yellowstone's carrying capacity for bison has not been reached¹; currently the park's herd stands at about 5000. The current cull is the largest since 2008 and represents about 18% of the herd.

One observer who has witnesses many of these culls over time writes in the New York Times, that the culls have very little to do with ecology or public safety, but much to do with politics. As the result of a lawsuit by the State of Montana, the federal government entered into a joint management plan for controlling bison numbers. Since that agreement in 2000, the federal government has spent $50 million in an annual round-up and shipment of capture animals to private slaughterhouses for disposal. That is 95% of the costs involved. Only about ninety buffalo have been killed by hunters this year. A former biologist with the Park Service says that the disease issue is a smoke screen.  The real reason the cull takes place is because a politically powerful livestock industry controls the process. As the result of more litigation by animal advocates, federal officials have to allow restricted access to media observers over four days of its choosing. Advocates argue this is an entirely too small a window from which to objectively view a slaughter that takes several weeks to complete. Clearly the US Park Service is not proud of its dirty work on behalf of Montana cattlemen. It is helping to destroy an iconic wild animal that the agency itself uses as a symbol of its mandate to protect the wild for posterity.

Of course the answer to this man-created problem is to allow bison to roam the western landscape as they once did. If domestic cows have to be moved, they can be transported much more easily to other ranges where they can await consumption. Montana is moving extremely slowly in this direction. Governor Bullock has proposed allowing no more than 600 bison to roam restricted areas beyond the park's western boundaries. There is no active cattle grazing in the areas proposed for bison use. But hazing of bison unaware of their limited tolerance in the "tolerance areas" will still be allowed if they overstep their place [photo]. The new policy is not a change of policy, but a modest, grudging concession to conservationists and wildlife advocates who want the unjustified annual killing of buffalo in Yellowstone to stop.

1.  A few scientists think some culling is necessary because the buffalo in the Park do no migrate anymore.  They can rapidly degrade grassland since the huge beasts devour 70 to 90% of Yellowstone's grasses.  But to US Person this opinion represents thinking inside the box.  Yellowstone is not an outdoor zoo and was never intended to be.  The solution lies in re-establishing a more natural balance between man's uses of the land and nature.   Yellowstone needs to be expanded in size, dramatically.  Its boarders should roughly coincide with the boundaries of the Yellowstone drainage basin.  Expanding Yellowstone will met with stiff resistance from private land owners who do not want to sell their private property.  The federal government has already spent $50 million killing bison; so generous offers to buy-out landowners does not pose an insurmountable barrier.  Buffalo numbers in an expanded Park could be controlled by limited sport hunting and translocation to former habitat throughout the west.  Yellowstone could be the genesis of a new and improved version of the American West.  Playing God?  Yes, because we were the Devil to begin with.