Those are our buffalo, pardner (CON)

  • Greg M. Peters

 

The buffalo skull that adorns the Montana state quarter is supposed to honor a majestic animal. In truth, it more accurately stands for the state's abysmal treatment of these icons of the West.

Over the years, thousands of bison leaving Yellowstone National Park have been hazed and killed on the grounds they might be diseased and dangerous to cattle. Then the state and the U.S. Agriculture Department cooperated in an experiment. A couple hundred bison were quarantined and thoroughly tested for the contagious disease brucellosis. Eighty-eight of these bison remain in quarantine, free of the disease, but funding for the program has run out and the state failed to devise a plan for the bison. This gave rise to a dilemma: What to do with the tested animals?

An overly influential ranching lobby protested every attempt to move the brucellosis-free bison to public lands near their precious cattle, including to state wildlife management areas. State officials also rejected as inadequate tribal proposals to house the bison. At the same time, the state insisted it could not afford to care for and feed the bison any longer.

Stymied and without an approved plan, state officials threatened to fall back on their tried and true solution to bison roaming out of Yellowstone: slaughtering them. Since 1985, the Montana Department of Livestock has partnered with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and federal Agriculture Department to prevent buffalo from roaming outside of Yellowstone National Park. These efforts have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and have caused the senseless deaths of more than 6,600 wild Yellowstone Bison.

Senseless, because no case of bison-to-cattle brucellosis transmission has ever been documented; in fact, only female bison can transmit the disease at all. Elk, however, have transmitted brucellosis to cattle; there was a well-publicized case this past fall. Yet despite the known risk, there has never been an elk slaughter program. To further the bitter irony of this situation, brucellosis is not even an American disease. It was introduced to Yellowstone bison in the early 1900s, when their calves were fed milk from infected European cattle introduced to the region.

And so, faced with no good options, Montana's Gov. Brian Schweitzer called on a rich friend -- Ted Turner -- for help. Turner responded by offering to house the buffalo for five years in exchange for 75 percent of their offspring, or about 190 animals. Turner explained that it would cost him roughly $480,000 to feed and care for the buffalo, and the offspring would offset his costs while also adding genetically pure bison to his herd, estimated at more than 50,000 animals. Turner would then return the original bison plus 25 percent of their offspring to the state. What the state would do with the bison at that point remains a mystery.

The whole plan stinks. Federal officials, tribes and many conservationists have all criticized the Turner solution. Opponents point out, for example, that the language permitting the program stipulated that the quarantined buffalo would "remain wild and noncommercial."

Despite public opposition to the plan, the state on Feb. 1 reaffirmed its decision giving Turner get all 88 bison and allowing him to keep 75 percent of their offspring as payment for housing them. After five years, he has to return the original 88 bison to the state, thereby skirting the privatization issue, the Fish, Wildlife and Parks department explained.

Josh Osher, policy coordinator for the Buffalo Field Campaign, doesn't think this makes the deal acceptable. "For us, the quarantine program is another indication that the Interagency Bison Management Plan is a failure. In the end, this is a handshake deal between Montana's governor and Ted Turner."

This sort of back-room dealing is disrespectful to the bison, to the tribes, and to the American people. These bison belong to the nation as a whole, not to the state or to the governor or a man with money.

For 25 years, Montana has encouraged the slaughter of these majestic creatures. Now, foot-dragging, poor planning, and cronyism have set the dangerous precedent of privatizing and commercializing wild animals. Clearly, we need a new management plan. We need a plan that is based on science, not fear, one that will allow bison to repopulate Western ranges naturally and permit tribes to manage bison on their reservations.

Americans everywhere deserve a policy that ensures that America's last remaining herd of wild bison is respected and afforded the dignity that they have been denied for over a century.

Greg M. Peters is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Missoula, Montana.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Friends of the San Juans (Friends), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is seeking an experienced, passionate, and charismatic environmental leader to continue its strong community leadership...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.