Critics slam bison plan

  -I've got two words for this plan: it stinks," said Page McNeill, chair of the Wyoming chapter of the Sierra Club, at a recent public meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Criticism of the draft management plan for the Yellowstone National Park bison herd (HCN, 7/6/98) came fast and furious at the Aug. 10 meeting, where more than 30 people attacked the Park Service's $30 million plan to quarantine, vaccinate and reduce the herd.

During the harsh winter of 1996-'97, bison poured out of the park in search of winter foraging grounds. Because many bison are infected with brucellosis, more than 1,000 migrating bison were killed near the park by state and federal officials, sparking a national controversy.

Although there are no documented cases of brucellosis transmission from bison to livestock, ranchers fear the state will lose its "brucellosis-free" status - a federal stamp of approval allowing livestock to be sold outside the state - if the disease is not completely eliminated from the park's wandering bison herd.

"Brucellosis infection is an example of the park's non-management," Robert Hendry, vice president of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, told the crowd. "Management does not mean letting things manage themselves."

Many environmentalists at the meeting said elimination of the disease is impossible. Instead of shooting wayward animals and using an unproven vaccine, they said, the park should reduce the risk of transmission by acquiring more winter range for bison.

"Risk management, not brucellosis eradication, is more realistic," said David Ditloff of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

Jackson Hole resident Geneen Haugen reminded the park - and the industry - to heed the concerns voiced at the meeting. "This is an issue of heart and emotion," she said. "Public opinion is a greater threat to the livestock industry than brucellosis will ever be."

Written comment on the plan will be accepted until Oct. 16. Send to Sarah Bransom, Interagency Bison Management Plan, DSC-RP, P.O. Box 25287, Denver, CO 80225-0287.

* Rachel Odell

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