Animal Writes
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From 9 March 2003 Issue

Park Rangers Slaughter Yellowstone Bison
By Greg Lawson - [email protected] 

For the last twenty years I have been proud to be a ranger with the National Park Service, proud and yet at the same time, ashamed that the Service has been unable to protect the very animal which is it's symbol: the American Buffalo, the bison of Yellowstone. In the two decades that I have been a ranger close to 4000 bison have been killed by Montana state officials and the Park Service.

I am deeply saddened by this week's news from Yellowstone. On Monday, March 3rd, over a hundred bison were captured by Yellowstone rangers at the Stephens Creek bison capture facility at the north end of the Park. On March 4th, 47 of those bison were sent to slaughterhouses in Montana. As of Friday, March 7, two hundred and thirty-one had been captured and most had been trucked to slaughter. Park officials say the operation will continue and a hundred more may be captured in the days ahead.

This is the first time since the winter of 1996-1997 that the National Park Service has taken a leadership role in the capture and slaughter of the Yellowstone bison. The Stephens Creek trap in north Yellowstone had not been used since that winter when 1084 bison were killed. For the last five years, the NPS has taken a support role, assisting the Montana Department of Livestock to capture bison.

On March 4th, I talked on the phone with Jonas Ehudin, spokesman for the Buffalo Field Campaign, an activist group that has been working to protect the bison since 1997. Jonas told me that the BFC believes the Park Service is acting under pressure from the state of Montana to "manage" (read Kill) the bison. Under the agreement, reached in the year 2000 by the state of Montana and the federal government, known as the Interagency Bison Management Plan, there is an arbitrary cap placed on the herd size at 3000 bison. A study to determine the actual carrying capacity of the park has never been done. According to a count in November, the bison herd is approximately 3800 animals. Hundreds of bison could be killed this spring before cattle are brought back into the area to graze on allotments in the Gallatin National Forest just outside Yellowstone Park.

The excuse used for years has been that the bison might spread the disease brucellosis to the cattle, but there has never been a case of bison passing brucellosis to cattle in the wild. The bison sent to slaughter this last week were not even tested for brucellosis since the herd size is above 3000. The elk of Yellowstone, which greatly outnumber the bison, also carry brucellosis, and elk have passed brucellosis to cattle. Montana allows the elk to freely leave the park and doesn't thin the elk population because elk hunting brings in millions of dollars to the state's economy each year.

Last Tuesday, I spoke on the phone with Marsha Karle, Public Affairs Officer for Yellowstone National Park. “APHIS (the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) wants to eradicate brucellosis,” she said. “Unless you destroy all the wildlife, that’s not going to happen.” Actually, APHIS has stated in the past that Montana was too aggressive in it’s actions against the bison, and that killing male bison and calves was senseless because they can not possibly pass the disease to cattle. Only an infected pregnant female bison presents a risk of transmission, and a low risk at that. It is truly senseless to slaughter male bison while ignoring the elk and other wildlife that carry the bacteria that cause brucellosis.

“We truly hate to see this happen,” Marsha Karle said of the slaughter. Then why is it happening? Our mandate is to protect park resources for future generations, not to destroy them to appease a special interest group, the cattle ranchers who graze their cattle on federal lands in the national forests surrounding the park.

A couple of weeks ago, the state senate of Montana violated the terms of the Interagency Bison Management Plan which forbids hunting as a method of bison management. The Montana senate passed a bill allowing bison hunting by permit. If this bill becomes law, Montana will be in violation of the Interagency Bison Management Plan and could loose millions of federal taxpayer dollars they receive each year to kill bison. That is, if the federal government has any courage to face the cattle ranchers of Montana. Somehow I doubt it after the capture/slaughter of this last week.

If the state of Montana doesn’t respect the Interagency Bison Management Plan, then neither should the National Park Service. The Service shouldn’t allow itself to be trapped by a plan which requires them to kill the bison. The Service should abandon the plan and reopen their bison management policy to public comment.

To learn more about this situation, please visit the homepage of the Buffalo Field Campaign, an activist group that works year round to try to save the bison. 

Ralph Maughan operates a page which lists the latest news stories about the Yellowstone bison at 

To voice your opinion, contact Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis at POB 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168; (307) 344-2002.
By email: [email protected]

Please remember that polite letters and calls help more than letting our anger show.

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