Ed. note: Bob Jackson was a notable backcountry ranger in Yellowstone Park for 30 years. I covered a number of stories about him on my old web site.
Now he is a private bison rancher.
Why is Yellowstone Destroying its bison herd?
By Bob Jackson.
I spent 30 years in Yellowstone protecting its resources, which I carried out with all my heart. Yellowstone, for most of those years, enthusiastically supported me whenever I brought a poacher to court. But the black and white of whether a person is a poacher is not the same as managing the greater population of animals in the Park.
Yellowstone has always been prone to politics. But due to its mission, Yellowstone has always led the country, with science, in countering the detrimental political influence imposed on Park resources. Employees always rose to the occasion because they had the deep conviction to protect the Park’s resources. But not now with the bison issue. I wish one could simply say Yellowstone has rolled over and given up, but it is much worse. I see the Park actively ensuring the status quo of ignorance. Yellowstone IS CULPABLE in the destruction of its bison.
I had heard of the elk reductions in the 50’s and 60’s. A few of the old time rangers, during evenings shared in backcountry cabins, would confide in me. None liked what they had been ordered to do. I was told the Model 70 Winchester 30-06, the very same one I slipped into my saddle scabbard for all those years of boundary patrol, had kill over 2000 elk in Yellowstone. But those days of unenlightened and exploitive management were over! I was proud to carry the same gun used to kill so many Park elk, because now it protected them.
No one thought Yellowstone would ever again stoop to allow such abuse of its resources. Black and white has blurred into shades of gray. The best Yellowstone administrators can offer is backroom whispering to non profits telling them to save their bison. Where is the honor and conviction of these public servants to stand up for what is right? If they had it, there would be a desperate search for answers, as was done for Yellowstone’s elk in the 60’s. Yellowstone had a lot of years to address this bison issue and has unequivocally failed to take the lead.
There is so much Yellowstone can do to fight for their bison. To start with, they need to acknowledge bison herds are composed of families and extended families, the same as elephants. Then they could focus studies showing the effects to the remnants of these families after they are broken up in the Park corrals. After determining family order, they also would realize each bison has a role within its family. Therein lies the solution to the brucellosis issue. For example, elimination of scout bulls, the Jim Bridgers and Kit Carsons of the bison world, upon entering unoccupied (ranch) lands, would solve the problem of bison families expanding into areas of concern.
Culpability comes from Yellowstone’s administrators lobbying against all but perfunctory University research to study these family groups. Why? It was something too far out of their knowledge grasp and thus became threatening to in-house status quo.
Second, Yellowstone needs to acknowledge the Mountain Bison culture of the non-migratory Mirror–Pelican herd still exists as a distinct functioning entity. The matriarchal segments of this herd are much warier than the introduced Plains bison and would never occupy areas where humans habituate. Protecting these bison from human contact in the summer means expansion of this native herd and at the same time be assured these animals will not leave the Park. Why doesn’t Yellowstone acknowledge this unique herd? Because they would have to reassess then rewrite their Bison Management Plan. Include in this the fear of the inevitable demands to remove the introduced Plains Bison.
More culpability comes in because Yellowstone had already been given this information about Mountain Bison. They have done nothing but give precautionary research lip service to it. Of course if they wait long enough, biologists “in-the-know” can then claim it as their own “discovery”. All this stalling, while our last native bison herd is fractured and destroyed.
Third, Yellowstone is covering up abuse of bison at their Stevens Creek Corrals. The Humane Society asked to film these corrals because they had heard of injuries and deaths at this facility. Even though no animals were around when filming was to be done, one excuse led to another until finally the Park’s Public Affairs Office had to come out and say NO. The Humane Society has a long history of cooperation and is welcome in other National Parks as a monitor. Not Yellowstone! Nor is the media now permitted to film corralling activities… in the name of animal welfare.
Culpability also comes from Yellowstone not questioning the off limit policy of filming carcasses after shipment of animals from Yellowstone. But with initial reports of massive bruising and broken ribs wouldn’t administrators, in the name of humane treatment, insist on independent monitoring? They do not, and thus they are culpable.
I wish I could simply say Yellowstone doesn’t have the backbone for a fight like they did with 50’s elk reductions or eliminating garbage dumps. But what Yellowstone has allowed to happen on their soil today, to my “alma mater,” is sickening. I ask the rank and file in Yellowstone; rise above the fear of job retaliation and remember why you joined the Park Service.
To cower in the closets of your Ranger Stations, maintenance sheds, and Mammoth administration buildings may secure careers, but every year of compromise means adding another year of personal slow death. Is it worth it? Lack of initiative by park administrators to have employees’ concerns heard and documented lets employees know their “leaders” are more like political lemmings following Washington pied pipers. Perhaps “political servant” is more appropriate than public servant.
For the public, I ask you to question the Park on these culpabilities. In fact question my statements. It is the best way to come up with personal conviction. Your questions means substantiating facts are disclosed. The cover up of inhumane treatment especially needs to be addressed. From the beginning, the interagency bison committee insulated themselves by writing in “experimental handling” language, making them immune to Montana State’s animal humane treatment laws. There is nothing going on at Yellowstone’s Steven’s Creek corrals today to justify being above the law, unless one believes in the validity of Holocaust experiments. I ask Yellowstone and any of the public who cares about Yellowstone to take the bull by the horns. Let’s rectify what’s happening to our Park and its wildlife.
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.
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