The proposal to kill another 900-1000 of Yellowstone Park’s bison this winter is a national disgrace and tragedy.

The continued butchery of Yellowstone’s genetically unique wild bison is a crime against the world’s global heritage. It reflects badly on the people of Montana that tolerate and allow this annual killing to go on. It also exhibits poor judgement on the part of hunters, tribal members, and others who participate and/or directly or indirectly sanction this crime against nature and our national patrimony.

Furthermore, the annual removal of bison by hunters, tribes and/or state/federal personnel for transfer to slaughterhouses have real ecological consequences for other wildlife. Wolves, grizzlies, coyotes, ravens, magpies, and other animals kill or scavenge bison..

With harsh winter weather, a percentage of Yellowstone National Park’s bison seek out snow-free grasslands outside of the park. This is a natural movement of animals from the snowy interior of the park to relatively balmy winter range beyond the park’s northern and western borders. Yet the bison exercising this natural migration are met with a bureaucratic and lead (bullets) wall that is slowly destroying Yellowstone’s wild bison.

Yellowstone’s bison herd is genetically unique. It is one of the few bison herds in the country free of cattle genes, and one of the only bison herds that have remained continuously wild. There is genuine aesthetic and ecological value in wildness. But by slaughtering Yellowstone’s bison (or to use the clinically sanitized term “culling”), we are destroying Yellowstone’s wild bison.

First, one needs to understand why killing a thousand bison is so harmful. The park’s bison have gone through several genetic bottlenecks. At one time, the population numbered 25 animals. And previous years of slaughter and capture/shipment by the livestock industry and others outside of the park means the park’s bison have gone through repeated genetic reductions.

This is made worse by the fact that bison are a tournament species-whereby dominant bulls do the majority of all breeding. This means the “effective” breeding population is much lower than the actual population numbers and as a result so is the genetic diversity.

The bison are being killed under the pretense of protecting Montana’s livestock industry from brucellosis.This is a sham because there is no documented instance of a wild bison transmitting brucellosis to livestock.

Most bison do not carry active brucellosis bacteria. When media reports that such and such percentage of bison tested positive for brucellosis, what they are reporting is that some bison carry antibodies to the disease. Just as most of would test positive for antibodies to polio but we cannot infect others, the mere presence of antibodies does not mean an animal carries active brucellosis bacteria.

Even among those bison with active bacteria, the circumstances necessary for transmission are extremely limited. A bison cow, with active brucellosis bacteria, has to abort her fetus. Then cattle must lick the aborted fetus or its fluid during the short time when the bacteria is still alive and before scavengers like coyotes, ravens and magpies find the dead fetus and consume it.

One can vaccinate cattle against the disease, and when combined with other strategies like preventing the overlap of bison and cattle use of pastures, the risk can be contained and is negligible.

Bison bulls and calves don’t abort fetus, hence are not a threat. Yet bison bulls and calves are regularly killed demonstrating the fraudulent reasoning behind the bison slaughter.

So why is the livestock industry fighting so hard to control and kill Yellowstone bison?

The excuse used by the livestock industry is disease control. Brucellosis infection can cause abortion of a calf. That is a charade. What the livestock industry fears is the spread of bison on public lands. Since bison and cattle consume nearly the same foods. What the livestock industry wants to avoid is a debate over whether public bison or private cattle should get preferential access to public lands forage.

The removal of migratory animals is a form of domestication, The killing of Yellowstone’s bison is artificially skewing the bison herd to a younger age, and removing the natural processes of predation, starvation, and other factors that normally affect these animals. We are slowly destroying Yellowstone’s wild bison.

The state of Montana is particularly culpable in the continued destruction of the Park’s wild bison. The state has outlawed the shipment of live bison outside of a small zone except for transfer to slaughterhouses. This policy makes it impossible to transfer bison to other suitable public lands in Montana, as well as to Indians reservations which want to start bison herds of their own. .

Unfortunately, some tribes are implicated in the bison debacle by killing bison as they move out of the park and by accepting the meat of bison captured and slaughtered. Their participation in the bison slaughter provides moral cover to the livestock industry’s dirty deeds.

It would be helpful if Native American tribes united in opposition to the bison slaughter as they have come out in opposition to grizzly delisting.

Tribes by their long traditional association with bison, could use their treaty rights and moral authority to advocate for expansion of Yellowstone bison on adjacent public lands of the Gallatin/Custer National. Forest, as well as support transplants to other large public lands holdings like the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and Pryor Mountains/Bighorn Canyon area of Montana, the Red Desert and Upper Green River areas of Wyoming, the INNEL and Craters of the Moon area of Idaho, the Little Missouri Grasslands of North Dakota, as well as using their treaty rights to challenge the state’s ban on transportation of live bison to tribal lands.

In terms of brucellosis threat to livestock, industry should start their insurance program that would reimburse any rancher whose herds contracted the disease from wildlife—whether elk or bison as well as require and assist ranchers near Yellowstone to vaccinate their herds against brucellosis.

In addition, the retirement of public lands grazing allotments, both surrounding Yellowstone as well as potential sites for new wild bison herds, would reduce present and future potential conflicts.

Yellowstone’s wild bison must be recognized as a valued wildlife animal in Montana and throughout the West and that protection of its unique genetic heritage is worthy of protection. We as a society have a moral obligation to enhance and expand Yellowstone’s bison to the American West.

 
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About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

16 Responses to Bison Slaughter National Disgrace

  1. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    It truly is a disgrace. Nothing has any value anymore to our nation, except for money. Are more bison being killed this year than last? 900-1000 seems like an awful lot.

    We claim to want progress, but yet we are still making decisions as if it were 200 years ago or more – and for the exaggerated and even non-existent risk of brucellosis, from bison anyway. Elk transmit it, but the elk are kept for hunters. Twisted logic, so we really can’t keep repeating the formula that we are making decisions on reason and science.

    This is why I was so disappointed with the Democratic party platform this time around; focusing on hot button issues that are guaranteed to obliterate every other pressing issue, for the sake of winning. You’d think it was still the 1970s or something. I do care about those issues, but not to the exclusion of everything else, such as a clean and healthy environment, respect for and protection of our wild lands and wildlife.

    • avatar Kathleen says:

      “Are more bison being killed this year than last? 900-1000 seems like an awful lot.”

      A year-by-year tally is here:
      http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/about-buffalo/yellowstone-buffalo-slaughter-history/yellowstone-buffalo-slaughter-totals

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        Thank you. I would think (or hope!) that as the years go by, the number would decrease, not increase, as we make it a point to find a better way, and recognize the great wrong killing these beautiful animals is. Instead, it seems to be business as usual, despite the bison being the national animal!

    • avatar alf says:

      “This is why I was so disappointed with the Democratic party platform this time around”

      The Dimacrap party has lost it’s way; it’s dead meat. As proof, the party machinery assured old lady clinton’s nomination, even though she had no vision other than “I’m Hillary, and it’s my turn” and largely because of that, her campaign was an embarrassingly inept abomination.

      Then, as if that wasn’t enough, as if the thorough drubbing they took nationwide in the election last month (nevermind that OLC won the popular vote), the House dimacraps re-elected it’s same old, tired moss backed leadership : Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Cliburn. Meanwhile, the senate dimacraps chose arch-wall street hack Chuckie Schumer to lead them further into oblivion. What’s next : Rahm Emmanual to run the DNC, when they need someone like Keith Ellison, Elizabeth Warren, or Raul Grijavla (spelling?).

      The repuglikan party has been a lost cause at least since Bonzo raygun’s election in 1980, if not before, and now the dimacraps have collapsed, too, and the country, indeed the world, will suffer mightily.

  2. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    And they are gorgeous, my first trip to Yellowstone introduced me to them, and what a treasure.

  3. avatar Kyle says:

    Thanks for the article George. This “policy” is a disaster for wild bison and a total ruse perpetuated by the beef industry.

    The IBMP is a complete failure because it only serves the narrow interests of the beef industry aided and abetted by the State of Montana, the NPS and some faulty leaders of a handful of Native American Tribes.

    There appears to be no viable possibility of resolving this issue in favor of the bison, short of removing all grazing permits in the public lands in proximity to Yellowstone (getting rid of cattle once and for all), scrapping the IBMP and it’s completely unfounded emphasis on “disease management.”

    The treatment of wild bison continues to be an irresponsible, misguided, and ethically vacuous policy dominated by a narrow set of vocal and politically connected industries. The policy has been going in the wrong direction from the beginning and the bison continue to suffer unnecessarily.

  4. avatar Kathleen says:

    How true that these indiscriminate “culls” are “slowly destroying Yellowstone’s wild bison.” As many as 11 years ago, when I started collaborating with and fundraising for Buffalo Field Campaign, I wrote the very same words–about the deceitful conflation of *exposure to* and *infection with* brucellosis; about the fraud of capture for slaughter that includes males who can’t transmit the disease; about the complicity of state (FWP) and federal agencies (particularly YNP!) and tribes in carrying out the livestock industry’s evil bidding…on and on, even including earlier attempts to scare citizens with the idea of contracting undulant fever (the manifestation of brucellosis in humans)! And well before that, it was Buffalo Field Campaign who began the beating of that same drum in 1997 (see BFC’s history timeline here: http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/who-we-are/history)

    So… 20 years and millions of words later–words challenging the lies and deceit of the ranching industry and its lackeys–wild bison advocates are STILL saying the same thing and wild bison are STILL being slaughtered! (What’s that definition of insanity?!?) Since their brucellosis fraud has been largely exposed, the status quo’s narrative has been tweaked slightly to include lies about private property destruction by bison and threats to public safety, but not much else has changed despite the fact that year-round habitat was designated for wild bison on Horse Butte in 2015. While that designation was a victory, it certainly didn’t mean an end to slaughter.

    In the spring of 2008 we went to the park and took a long hike off-trail in the northern range backcountry. This was after the heinous slaughter of that 2007-08 winter–1631 precious individuals and their precious genes lost that season. There were no bison anywhere; their absence was so loud that it screamed. As an animal rights activist, I mourn for each individual bison who values and loses his/her life to human greed. But as the piece above asserts, at the population level–and in a more universal sense, since this herd is one-of-a-kind–the “unique genetic heritage” of these wild bovines is being slaughtered right off the face of this planet for something as meaningless as cattle ranching–the oppression and slaughter for profit of domesticated bovines.

  5. avatar Immer Treue says:

    But the full of “wisdom”, ok perhaps other stuff, Don Peay wrote in The Real Wolf,
    “…Yellowstone, and now the bison are the final prey… and they are declining as well.”

    Why, when this man of clairvoyance states that bison are in decline due to wolves, must this continued cull occur?

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      I didn’t know what to make of people like Don Peay for a while, but now I see that people like him were the forerunners of Donald Trump — aggressive proponents of their interest to whom the truth was a foreign concept.

  6. avatar Craig says:

    If you put 2 dogs in a pen, and let them fight we call it animal abuse. Plus the people who promote this abuse are prosecuted. If you put a hundred wild bison in pens and trailers, and let them fight we call it acceptable livestock handling and the people who promote this abuse are immune to prosecution. 70% of the Yellowstone bison at the time of slaughter will have significant bruising, broken bones, broken horns, puntured rumens, gouged out eyes, and flesh wounds. This is animal abuse and not acceptable livestock handling. This nonsense has gone on for 20 years. It really needs to stop. Shipping wild bison to slaughter is inhumane and a worse case scenario for bison. Much better management options are available.

    • avatar Mat-ters says:

      What are the options? “management” is a dirty word to some who really don’t have “options”. I’m listening.

  7. avatar Patrick says:

    I would really like to find environmentally progressive, and socially and fiscally moderate to progressive candidates to support. Can we have some of those just to shake things up?

  8. avatar Kyle says:

    Including a link from the BFC for an excellent op-ed recently written by Stephany Seay.

    http://buffalofieldcampaign.org/bfc-news/op-ed-montana-can-protect-wild-bison

  9. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    Premise 2: bison are spilling into neighboring Montana. When did seasonal migration become an accident? Do elk and deer “spill” over park boundaries? This is just more livestock rhetoric. Wild buffalo aren’t “park animals” who should stay put within artificial, ecologically meaningless boundaries for the “benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Migration is not some error that humans should correct.

    +++++++ If it’s one thing that is terribly wrong (after the needless killings, of course), it’s trying to bend nature to the will of humans and their interests.

  10. avatar snaildarter says:

    The sad thing is its really isn’t necessary, however now that science and ecology have been vanished by the ballot box I can only hope we can compromise with the ranching community to find a solution. But With Trump in the White House I fear for the basic concept of National Parks.
    In a perfect world Paradise Valley would be part of Yellowstone NP.

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