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Know the West

Bison under the gun - again



It was a hard winter for the bison of Yellowstone National Park. Increased herd size and harsh weather prompted many animals to head beyond the park for better feeding grounds in Montana. There, federal and state officials have so far killed 170 bison in an attempt to prevent the spread of brucellosis to cattle that graze in the area during the summer. The disease causes spontaneous abortions. Usually officials test the animals for brucellosis after capture and kill all those testing positive for the disease. But in late April, due to the start of the calving season, 32 captured bison went to the slaughterhouse without any test beforehand.

This latest action is allowed by the Interagency Bison Management Plan, an interagency blueprint for brucellosis prevention, which says that if the Yellowstone bison population exceeds 3,000 animals, bison can be killed without testing. The herd currently numbers about 3,300.

Critics say that this reasoning doesn't wash. "Their aim has been the eradication and depopulation of this herd all along," says Dan Brister, media coordinator for the Buffalo Field Campaign. "It (the lack of testing) really shows their true colors." To try to stop the capture of bison, one Campaign volunteer recently locked himself to the drive shaft of a car, blocking a Forest Service road, while another locked himself to a holding pen.

The Campaign has filed a lawsuit against the Montana Department of Livestock and the Forest Service over alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act during bison capture operations. In the meantime, the group will continue its efforts to interfere with the agencies' actions. This will keep the Campaign busy - the Plan mandates that no bison can be outside of the park after May 15 so that cattle can arrive at the area in June.