Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
From  Issue
21 April 2002
Another Farm Bill Addition

From Buffalo Field Campaign - [email protected] 

Farm Bill Could Mean Killing of Sick Bison in Yellowstone


HELENA, Mont., April 18 -- National Park Service officials and environmentalists say a provision in the farm bill could lead to the slaughter of bison and elk in Yellowstone and other national parks.

The provision, the Animal Health Protection Act, was added to the bill in the Senate by Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, to consolidate and broaden the Department of Agriculture's authority to manage animal disease. The purpose was to make it easier for agricultural officials to respond to livestock diseases like mad cow and foot-and-mouth and to counter possible food contamination by terrorists.

The contention comes down to the word "animal" in the definition of the "pests" that would be subject to the department's new authority. That addition, critics say, would give that department control over any animals that threaten livestock.

Among those that could be affected, the critics say, would be elk and bison in Yellowstone, which have brucellosis in large numbers. Ranchers in Montana and Wyoming fear that the disease could be passed on to their cattle.

The Interior Department, which oversees national parks and has authority over wildlife, has opposed efforts to kill infected elk and bison under a philosophy that nature should be allowed to take its course.

Even though there have been no documented cases of brucellosis transmission to domestic cows in the wild, Montana has a zero-tolerance policy and shoots any buffalo that leave Yellowstone.

"For 60 years, the state veterinarians and Department of Agriculture have wanted to come into the park, round up elk and bison, test them and slaughter the ones that have brucellosis," the chief scientist at Yellowstone, John Varley, said. "My guess is that would be their first priority."

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department said the bill was not intended to grant the agency authority over other jurisdictions.

"Any action we would take that involves another government agency, we would consult with them very closely," the spokeswoman, Alisa Harrison, said. "We work closely with the National Park Service."

A spokesman for Mr. Harkin's office said the language in a small but critical section of the bill that transferred authority was an oversight.

"It wasn't Senator Harkin's intent to infringe on the Department of Interior's jurisdiction," the spokesman, Seth Boffeli, said. "We are working with wildlife groups and are hopeful a compromise can be reached."

Based on past studies of the 3,000 or so bison in Yellowstone, Mr. Varley said, up to 80 percent of the animals could test positive for brucellosis and could, under the proposed legislation, be shipped to slaughter. Yellowstone bison are descendants of the few animals that survived the slaughter in the late 19th century. They are the last free-roaming herd in the West.

Steve Torbit, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation in Denver and a former wildlife biologist for Colorado and Wyoming and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, said the proposed legislation would also usurp a state's authority to manage its own wildlife.

"It would," Mr. Torbit said, "give authority to kill wildlife to a single special interest, the livestock industry."

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Please take 5 minutes and contact your two Senators with your opinion regarding the above. Their contact info is at:
Call your Senator's local office (as well as their D.C. office) today. You may also phone the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and an operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.

Let them know that our last wild buffalo must be protected.

Thank you!
For the Buffalo!

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