The great bison chase continues

  Fifteen bison thundered along a barbed-wire fence in West Yellowstone while officials from the Montana Department of Livestock chased them from snowmobiles in December. After running the herd for a half an hour through a privately owned field, officials cornered eight. Then they shot blanks from rifles into the air, set off firecrackers and yelled until the lead bison jumped the fence. One by one, the rest of the herd followed, lumbering back into Yellowstone National Park.

So far this winter, department staffers have chased over 500 of the animals from state and private land, maintaining Montana's brucellosis-free status, says Marc Bridges, acting director of the state's livestock agency. The alternative is killing bison, he adds.

Activists with the group Buffalo Nations, who are camped near here for the second winter, call the department's actions inhumane and unnecessary. "Hazing bison back into the park or capturing them uses up energy resources the animals need to survive the winter," says activist Leo Brennen. "It would be more humane to shoot the animals. Hazing is ultimately the same thing as killing them." Two activists were arrested in January while protesting the hazing.

The federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has said there is little risk of calves, yearlings and bulls spreading brucellosis to cattle if they leave the park for limited amounts of time. Nonetheless, the Department of Livestock has started work on a capture pen near Horse Butte, where officials will catch bison and test them for brucellosis. All animals that test positive will be killed.

*Rachel Odell