Animal Writes
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From 18 January 2004 Issue

Congress Considers Banning Slaughter of Yellowstone Bison

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Bi-Partisan Effort Seeks Ban on Slaughtering American Icon

WASHINGTON (January 16, 2004) – As members of Congress return to Washington, one of the issues on their agenda will be legislation that would end a senseless practice – the slaughter of the wild buffalo in and around Yellowstone National Park.

With more than 40 co-sponsors, the Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act is quickly gaining bi-partisan support in the House of Representatives.

Representatives Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Charles Bass (R-NH) introduced the legislation, H.R. 3446, calling for a moratorium on the hazing, capturing, and killing of Yellowstone buffalo on all federal public lands until certain conditions are met.

The bill is also backed by a coalition of conservation, environmental and animal welfare organizations, including the Bear Creek Council, Buffalo Field Campaign, Defenders of Wildlife, Endangered Species Coalition, The Fund for Animals, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, The Humane Society of the United States, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council and The Wilderness Society. Together the organizations represent more than nine million members and supporters.

“The buffalo has long been an important symbol of our country,” said Representative Hinchey. “So much so that in the early part of the 20th century, the designer of the nickel said he could think of no image more emblematic of America. To fail to protect this American icon is unthinkable in my view.”

A vote on an amendment to last year’s House Interior Appropriations bill to protect the Yellowstone buffalo herd mustered 199 votes, demonstrating strong Congressional support for the buffalo and growing concern over the current, hysteria-based management of the Yellowstone herd.

Yellowstone National Park is home to America’s last truly wild, genetically pure buffalo, descendants of the tens of millions of buffalo once roaming the western plains. The American buffalo was virtually wiped out in the 19th century. The animals were nearly extinct at the beginning of the 20th century, when only a few hundred remained in the U.S., including fewer than 30 in the park. “This Congress should openly debate whether or not to allow government officials to kill these animals while on public lands,” added Representative Bass. “We have already set space aside for protection and spent taxpayer dollars pursuing this goal. Slaughtering these animals without scientific rationale seems wasteful and contrary to stated aims,” he concluded.

Under the Hinchey-Bass Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act, state and federal government agency officials are prohibited from hazing, capturing, or killing Yellowstone buffalo on federal lands (except in cases of threatened personal safety or private property damage) until the following conditions have been met:

• Yellowstone buffalo must be allowed to range freely on federal lands to the immediate north and west of the park.

• Management authority of buffalo within Yellowstone must be under the sole jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

• A land exchange and grazing rights transfer on the north side of the park must be finalized so that a small, private cattle herd no longer grazes near key wildlife habitat.

• The buffalo capture facility within the park must be removed.

• Agency officials must make reasonable efforts to allow Yellowstone buffalo, like other wildlife, to roam freely on public lands through incentives and cooperative efforts with ranchers and other private landowners.

The current population of wild buffalo in Yellowstone National Park is estimated at 4,100. During the winter, some of the animals leave the park boundaries in search of food, hypothetically putting the buffalo in conflict with several local cattle ranchers, who fear the buffalo could transmit brucellosis to their cattle. Under an agreement between the federal government and the state of Montana, state and federal agents are permitted to haze the buffalo back into the park, which includes chasing the animals through deep snow with snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, and even helicopters.

The current buffalo management scheme also allows state and federal agents to capture buffalo in capture facilities and ship them to a Montana slaughter facility, or to shoot the buffalo outright. Last year, state and federal officials captured 231 buffalo in the capture facility inside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park and sent them to slaughter, without testing them for brucellosis.

Also, despite the fact that only pregnant, infectious female buffalo can potentially transmit brucellosis, bull buffalo and buffalo too young to give birth are routinely captured and killed. In the winter of 1996-97, 1,100 buffalo were slaughtered. There is fear that similar weather conditions this winter could bring similar results.

Cattle ranchers and the Montana Department of Livestock fear that any buffalo carrying brucellosis would pose a risk to the cattle industry. However, there has never been a documented case of brucellosis transmission between free-roaming buffalo and cattle, and science does not support the brutal management practices currently in use. The Hinchey-Bass bill acknowledges that the American buffalo has profound ecological, cultural, historical, and symbolic significance to the United States.

The bill mandates efforts to allow Yellowstone buffalo to roam freely and directs the government to work with ranchers and other private landowners to provide common-sense solutions to perceived conflicts between the few hundred cattle grazed in the Yellowstone ecosystem and Yellowstone’s fragile buffalo herd.

For more information on the legislation and the buffalo of Yellowstone National Park, visit

NOTE: B-roll footage of the Yellowstone buffalo is available.

For More Information Contact:

Michael Markarian/The Fund for Animals: 301-585-2591 ext. 216

Rachel Querry/The Humane Society of the United States: 301-258-8255

Elise Russell/National Parks Conservation Association: 202-454-3391

Eric Dyson/The Wilderness Society: 202-429-2675

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