Montana's Brucellosis-Free Status Lost

Another cow has been found to be infected with brucellosis costing the state of Montana its brucellosis-free status :

Sick Cow Costs Montana Its Brucellosis-Free Status – Mathew Brown – AP

The cow in question was among a herd in Paradise Valley south of Livingston.

NewWest’s coverage reveals the state’s astonishment :

Montana veterinarian Marty Zaluski said the loss of brucellosis free status is particularly frustrating given efforts by livestock producers and the industry to mitigate risks and increase disease surveillance.

“Producers in the Paradise Valley have been involved and diligent, and they have taken it upon themselves to be proactive in regard to managing the risk of brucellosis transmission,” Zaluski said. “In this particular case, the owner did everything right. The cow had been vaccinated twice and was part of a herd management plan.

The state’s “diligence” includes the largest slaughter of Yellowstone’s bison in the past century, sanctioned under the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP). The threat of brucellosis transmission is used as the primary justification for the haze and slaughter of bison in Yellowstone despite transmission between bison and cattle having never been documented. This case, and the preceding case, is no different.

But if not bison, then what ? Again, on NewWest :

McDonald of the Cattlemen’s Association said the second case does not come as a surprise. “I’m only surprised it took as long as it did,” he said. “It’s obvious that park wildlife is a reservoir of brucellosis.

The state veterinarian maintains that elk transmitted disease to the preceding case of the Bridger cattle herd teeing Montana up for loss should another case of transmission, this case, occur. But for all the ‘Chicken Little’ rhetoric about the potential economic consequences of Montana’s loss of brucellosis-free status, and for all of the resources spent and wildlife slaughtered and “managed” to placate livestock ranchers, the government agency failed to secure blood-sampling which might have vindicated, or acquitted, wildlife as the source of the disease. Robert Hoskins commenting on NewWest :

Let’s not forget that APHIS failed to secure the necessary blood samples from 6 of the 7 affected Bridger cattle at the slaughterhouse because of a concern of violating the slaughterhouse owner’s private property rights.

If the threat of brucellosis is so dismal as is suggested and the state and federal government are so sure that elk infected these livestock, then what problem would the owner of the slaughterhouse have with allowing the federal government to take blood from the infected animals to scientifically test such allegations ? Private property rights ? It seems we have a double-standardBFC Press Release 5/29/08 :

With horses, a helicopter, state and federal law enforcement, and U.S tax dollars to spend, Montana Department of Livestock agents have descended upon the cattle-free Horse Butte Peninsula, violating private property rights and upsetting human and wildlife residents in an attempt to chase wild American bison out of Montana and into Yellowstone National Park.

Apparently, wildlife advocates don’t have private property rights – or, as far as the IBMP participating agencies are concerned, wildlife advocate private property rights are less equal than Livestock’s private property rights.

How about some more irony: Let’s say the cattlemen have their way and it’s the elk. What then ? Keith Aune, chief of wildlife research for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks explains in an interview that brucellosis can become a problem in elk herds when numbers are not kept down and that “reducing the size of the affected elk herd” keeps brucellosis at bay. Hmmm… What might we get to keep elk herds at healthy numbers thereby mitigating the risk of brucellosis transmission ? Aune similarly castigates the Wyoming elk feed-grounds as seeding herds with brucellosis who migrate and spread the disease to the adjacent states of Idaho and Montana.

Don’t hold your breath on the Montana Stockgrowers or Cattlemen having a sudden epiphany and endorsing wolves as natural agents of brucellosis mitigation or condemning their Wyoming counterparts’ lobby to keep Wyoming’s brucellosis farms open an extra month this year.



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  1. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    “We need now the state of Montana to reciprocate with the wildlife. Because they are the real threat here,” explained Errol Rice, Executive Vice President of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. “And you have industry being proactive and the state of Montana being lackadaisical on managing bison on the west side and you have a wildlife managing agency that refuses to acknowledge the risk that the elk pose to the livestock industry.”

    Reciprocate with the wildlife? What does that mean? Damn the wildlife. Round ’em up. Vaccinate ’em. And if that can’t be done, kill ’em.

    All hail the Golden Calf.

    Rice has it backwards; privately owned sheep and cattle that are grazed on AMERICA’S public lands are the real threat here. Privately owned sheep and cattle threaten watersheds, bighorns, elk, bison, wolves, and more.

    Folks, dig in for a huge battle…

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own
    Wildlife Watchers

  2. Nathan Avatar

    Bison are the easiest target to toss this blame on. Regardless of what the causes actually are next winters efforts to control and contain them will be just as strong if not stronger.

  3. Catbestland Avatar

    So if it’s the elk that are passing the disease, is there going to be a mass slaughter of elk as well as bison? That ought to make the outfitters happy. lol. Also, all of a sudden the cattlemen are referring to the bison as wildlife, not livestock as they are designated? Hmm. How many ways can they have it???

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Montana Stockgrowers Association is trying to avoid the blame they so richly deserve.

    Governor Schweitzer wanted to split Montana into two brucellosis areas — one for the Greater Yellowstone and the rest for the vast majority of the state, so that the entire state would not lose its brucellosis free status if this happened.

    Guess which organization killed his plan? Yes, the Montana Stockgrowers Assn.

  5. Brian Ertz Avatar

    I think whether bison advocates can trust Schweitzer or not, his play of this split-state status, and his quick move to pin this on the Stockgrowers is a good call.

  6. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    An earlier comment I made appears not to have made it. My earlier point was that, as with the Morgan/Bridger outbreak, I think it is highly likely that this discovery in Paradise Valley, apparently near Pray, 20 miles south of Livingstone, is likely to have a cattle source, not an elk source. There’s no doubt in my mind that imported Corriente cattle brought brucellosis into the Morgan/Bridger herd, and there’s no doubt in my mind that APHIS and DOL know it. That’s why no additional samples were taken a year ago and also why the livestock industry is determined to pin the blame on elk. It’s also why we still don’t have an epidemiological report on the Morgan/Bridger outbreak a year later, although the deadline is 60 days.

    It is very likely we’ll see the same with the Paradise Valley discovery.

    The Stockgrowers oppose split status because it would reflect a diminution of the power the livestock industry has over wildlife and land use policy and management.
    – – –
    Webmaster comment:

    The way I see it Robert, is that they (Montana Stockgrowers) want to hold all of livestock industry hostage, and they did; but now the gun has gone off. They are going to try to raise heaven and hell to pretend they are not responsible. So yes, we will see some likely see some new manipulation or efforts to do so by someone with the latest samples. Ralph Maughan

  7. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Could someone educate me on this? I heard from one of our members – one who has been working on this issue for decades – that the split state status was actually premature. Right now, Montana has the power to divide up the area that is affected by Class A and that which is not. In other words, management of livestock into disease areas can happen after the fact – and is almost pointless to do before the fact.

    However, everything I read in the press suggests that this isn’t the case – that Montana has no choice but to treat all livestock under Class A. Who is right?

    Either way, this is a red herring. It’s funny to hear on the news all the talk about how safe the beef still is. Some disease – it’s clear that the problem at least from a legal standpoint is with APHIS’s outdated rules about brucellosis – even though the punishment is actually next to nothing (as people have pointed out here for years), it doesn’t have to be anything at all.

    And, of course, this really exposes again that this is a war over grass and land use ideology – not about the big bad brucellosis. My god, we kill buffalo over a disease that doesn’t actually harm anyone. Tomatoes have salmonella right now, and they are not only still on the shelves, people are still willing to buy them. This is infinitely less than that.

    Montana’s economy won’t even feel this. However, buffalo who have nothing to do with this will.
    – – –
    Webmaster comment:

    Montana’s news media has always been a bunch of fear mongerers on this. When Idaho lost its class A status several years ago, the MSM hardly bothered to report the story. I posted a number of times, “where’s the news on this?” Ralph Maughan

  8. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I’ve been on two informal census trips for bison over the last month in the Park, last week being the most recent trip. What I and others are coming up with is well less than 2000 bison in the entire Park. My initial estimate was about 1700 bison, which is well less than the 2100 cutoff mandated in the IBMP. As I talk with others, however, it’s starting to look as if my estimate is too high, and that we may be as low as 1300-1400 bison. Total. It’s that bad. The agencies have really done it now. The only good that can come of this slaughter is that perhaps we’ll have more ammunition to support an ESA listing for a Yellowstone bison distinct population segment.

  9. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    Robert, that’s terrible news.

    That seems to jive with the numbers the Park Service was sending out (though they kept saying their numbers aren’t population estimates).

    That would mean that 70% of the buffalo from the fall are gone!

  10. Catbestland Avatar

    This makes me absolutely sick. Why isn’t there some legal redress possible to hold the agencies at fault accountable? Government agencies get sued all the time for their bad policies. They can’t say that they had no control over the bad winter weather. It was obvious early on that many bison would be lost to the winter. They just kept killing them. There is no excuse.

  11. Buffaloed Avatar

    Jim, Robert,

    After the wolf conference I was fortunate enough to see the conditions inside the Park as I drove through from Mammoth to West in April. While driving we saw several winter killed animals and the plane used for the survey. Shortly afterward the estimate came out and I was struck by the fact that they used the number observed and added many more using their computer program that tries to account for animals they didn’t see. I understand that it is normal procedure to do that and I understand why.

    That being said, I ask this question. How many could they have missed? The conditions at the time were such that the buffalo were STARVING and they were only in the very small corridors near streams and thermal areas that still held grass. They wouldn’t have been in forested areas because there was no food there just hard packed snow. The vast majority of the buffalo that I saw inside the Park were bulls and I am very worried that many of the cows were killed by the harsh winter and the Park Service since they are smaller and don’t have the same ability to dig through snow that the larger bulls have. The number given at the time was ±1750 through direct observation which included the ±300 which were held in the Stephens Creek facility.

    We all know that winter did not end on April 15 and that there were many weeks left since the Park did not release the ±300 until May 19th. I presume that many died from winter kill after the last count of April 15th so we don’t know how many are left now.

    In the interior some mixed groups, totaling ~230, moving around Hayden Valley, the Lakeshore
    and in Pelican Valley. There are approximately 540 bison in the Geyser Basins. There are
    approximately 58 bison out of the park, west of Hwy 191 and on Hwy 191 itself. There are
    approximately 88 bison between 191 and Cougar Meadows inside the park. On the Northern
    Range bison are primarily utilizing Blacktail and Hellroaring slope with limited, but increasing
    use of Little America. There are now roughly 170 bison on Blacktail Deer Plateau. There has
    been some movement east from Gardiner to Blacktail with 3 radio collared bison, but movement
    has continued to the North, including two radio collared bison from Swan Lake. There are
    approximately 350 bison in the Gardiner basin, including ~135 in the Eagle Creek area.

    I don’t know how thorough that flight was so it is hard for me to say they missed a lot of buffalo but all of the areas that hold buffalo during the winter are covered in the report and there would have been few buffalo in areas not visible from the air not the 600 that were added after the fact.

  12. Catbestland Avatar

    Isn’t there some sort of petition that we can pass around to get signatures, asking the federal government to revoke the power of the MDOL and the IBMP? They should look out for the interest of the people and protect our wildlife. How about a Quo Warranto? Do any of you legal minds out there know it that would work?

  13. SmokyMtMan Avatar

    I have been told that bison can increase their populations by 25-35% a year. Is that accurate?

    And don’t read my question as a thinly-veiled attempt to excuse the slaughter, either. I understand quite well why the bison are not being allowed to leave Yellowstone, but I do not support the slaughter because alternatives to simply killing the bison exist.

    Such as giving the bison to Native tribes who have asked for them.

  14. kim kaiser Avatar

    i think there is an old hippee term,,,,,BAD KARMA!!! killling all those bison!!

  15. Catbestland Avatar

    What kind of impact is the loss of “Burcelosis Free” status likely to have on the Montana beef industry? Is it serious enough to put some of them out of business or will it cause them to retaliate further against the bison and other wildlife?

  16. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    None of them will go out of business – in fact for the lost herds, the ranchers will receive money for each head lost (which seems to be under 50 in this case).

    The cost is very little – nothing compared with the cost that Montana spends trying to keep buffalo out of the state.

  17. Save bears Avatar
    Save bears

    The only effect will be the extra power they wield on the bully pulpit, really in the whole scope of things, this will not affect the ranchers at all, their insurance as well as federal aid will cover any losses they have.

  18. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    If the experience of Wyoming losing its b-free status for two years (2004-2006) is any guide, the cost of Montana’s losing b-free status will be minimal, and what cost there is will be picked up by the taxpayers, not the livestock industry or producers. See my New West column from 7 March, The True Cost of Brucellosis, on the issue:

    My estimates of bison numbers are based purely on what I could count between Old Faithful and Mammoth and Mammoth and Slough Creek on two occasions over the last month, the most recent last Thursday, and on discussions with other people. As yet, official counts from the June census, which appears to have already been done, although we’ve been told it won’t happen until mid-month, have not been released.

    Last Thursday, Hayden Valley was still mostly snow covered or flooded and grass growth was minimal. The Park claimed before the last major haze off Horse Butte that green up was good in the Park. Well, that was only true of the Madison corridor between West and Madison and in the Lamar east of the Buffalo Ranch. The vast majority of bison habitat, especially for the Central Herd, was still inundated by snow. Going through Hayden last Thursday, I saw only 7 bulls, and I glassed the valley pretty thoroughly with good binocs from almost every turnout. The Hayden was effectively empty.

    At this point, I do not think computer estimates for uncounted animals that Buffaloed mentioned above will be accurate. My overall sense of the situation in the Park is that it is nearly empty of bison compared to what we had at the beginning of last winter, and that the total numbers could easily be 1300-1400–certainly not more than my original estimate of 1700. A gut feel, yes, but one backed up by my own counts and the counts of others who know the herd more intimately than I do.

    It is beginning to look as though an Endangered Species Act petition will have more weight now, and it will have some good, hard science behind it.

    As far as reproduction, brucellosis hasn’t affected the reproductive potential of bison, but the problem is that even with high reproduction, the agencies have decimated various social groups of bison, and it takes a lot longer for social groups to redevelop. We do terrible damage by this massive slaughter. Bison health isn’t just numbers and biological potential for reproduction. As Bob jackson has noted, it’s also about the family groups.

  19. JB Avatar

    RH said: “The only good that can come of this slaughter is that perhaps we’ll have more ammunition to support an ESA listing for a Yellowstone bison distinct population segment.”

    Robert: I believe the previous petition to list the YNP failed because the petitioner invoked the DPS language. There is a reasonable justification for listing the entire subspecies (plains bison); after all, we have eliminated the bison from the VAST majority of its historical range and there are only three herds confirmed with no genetic introgression. We need only wait for Bush to leave office and a court ruling that tosses out the Solicitor’s extremely narrow interpretation of “endangered species” under the ESA. Just think a moment on the implications of listing the plains bison throughout the U.S…

  20. Buffaloed Avatar


    What observations did you make regarding sex ratio? I am concerned that there was a considerable impact on cows and calves over that of bulls due to their size difference and the fact that they left the Park in greater numbers. When I was in the Park a couple of weeks ago I saw fewer cows and calves and I’m wondering if you observed the same.

  21. dbaileyhill Avatar


    I was also in the park at that time, and of the few i observed there was considerably less cows and calves. In previous years they have far out-numbered the amount of bulls. In my opinion recovery of the herds will take considerably longer with the extent of the devastation/killing that occurred this year.

    I am wondering what the effects will be regarding the amazing amount of water in the park. With winter hanging on so late, will the green up period be long enough for the animals to fatten up and sustain them through another long winter?
    I was in Quebec City in March and the info there said to expect this coming winter to be the same. But whatever happens in the park, i believe the bison will have a great deal of difficulty in all aspects of recovery.

  22. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    The question of a DPS listing vs. a nation wide listing, will probably come down to genetic issues, and I’m not competent to comment on genetics. However, the people I know who know genetics are thinking at present along the lines of a DPS listing for Yellowstone bison, and I assume they have good reasons for it. That’s all I can say about it.

    We’ve got to understand that the last petition to list, as well intentioned as it was, wasn’t a professional job, yet it still got attention. I don’t think the idea of a DPS is out of the question. If we could get a nation-wide listing, that would be great, but I’ll settle for a DPS for Yellowstone bison if that’s all we could get.

    Among the bison I saw over the last month, I did see considerable numbers of calves among the adults, even though overall numbers were way down. For example, I saw in the Lamar approximately 100 calves in a total of about 450 bison, which is not many. I didn’t have time to do classification counts, so I’m sorry I don’t have a sex ratio. I was focusing on getting overall numbers and moving on to other areas to get counts. Visibility was poor and both times I ran into rain and snow; I had blizzards in the Hayden both times. Identifying sexes was very difficult unless the animals were close by, and most of the time they weren’t. The seven bulls I saw in the Hayden last Thursday were all within 200 meters of the road,and one bull led a convoy of cars down the road for a couple hundred meters. I’ve not had time to compare what I saw to the official numbers of bison shipped off to slaughter.

    However we respond, the main message is that bison were hammered this winter, really hammered, and considerable damage was done to the two main herds as a consequence of livestock industry politics. I think the Central Herd especially is hard hit.

  23. Salle Avatar

    And a considerable amount of snow fell the last few hours.

  24. vicki Avatar

    When I visited in the end of May, I was hard pressed to call the handful of bison in the Hayden a herd.
    At any rate, the brucellosis free status has long been a chip that holds bison captive in YNP. What it really amounts to is a way for stockgrowers to keep grazing areas under their thumb. Bison can eat a lot of valuable vegatation…and they’d prefer their cattle ate that for the measley money they pay for leases. If bison roamed freely, they’d eat that vegatation and then cattle ranchers would have to pay to supplement their herds food. Although alfalfa farmers would like that, we can not honestly count cattlemen among those agricultural representatives who are devoted to the good of the ag industry as a whole. We can only count them as being interested in their own bottom line.
    That is why we won’t likely see a split state. The ranchers in the area that would lose their burcellosis free status will pitch one hell of a fit. That would leave them vulnerable to arguments that may lead to them losing their leases.
    Dividing the state would divide political and financial resources for the state’s stockgrowers association. Attorneys would be fighting people they formerly represented…. there would be a division of legal pull….I’d love to see them duking it out! But, I doubt it will happen.
    It is like the old saying goes, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” These men are jerks, but they are smart enough to see that problem coming and divert it.

  25. Catbestland Avatar

    I was wondering, if the ranchers blame the elk for spreading brucelosis, would that cause a fall out between them and the outfitters. If so who would comeout ahead in that battle. Ranchers probably have more political clout that do outfitters but a lot of polititions love to hunt and hunting is big business in Montana. Maybe Cheney will hunt in Montana with some of his rancher buddies and solve the whole problem.

  26. Indamani Avatar

    For years they’ve treated bison like ‘pariahs’ , now, the state of montana is getting a taste of what it’s like to be a ‘pariah’ in the beef industry. I guess what goes around does come around.

  27. JB Avatar


    I agree that either a DPS or species-level listing would ultimately beneficial, but I think the DPS status lets FWS off the hook. A DPS listing would allow them to confine bison to a few, large public lands areas while ignoring the vast expanses of historic habitat that are unoccupied. This is the exact strategy that FWS/Interior took with wolves; that is, they used DPS policy to draw lines around isolated “core” populations and call them recovered. In any case, you are correct in that we will probably see a DPS listing (if any), as Interior is hell bent on limiting the number and extent of ESA listings…at least under Bush.

  28. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    I don’t disagree with this assessment; I’m more than aware of the FWS shenanigans over the wolf DPS. After all, I live here and have been involved in wolf conservation for years. All I’m saying is that any bison listing will rise or fall on their genetic status, and it is not clear to me from my discussions with the PhDs that we can get a nation-wide listing based upon genetics alone, while a DPS for Yellowstone bison might be a better option. I would be more than happy to be wrong about this.

    Any nation-wide listing and restoration would have to deal with the problem of potential contact between conservation and domestic herds. Just what do we do about the domestic, commercial herds?

    Nor is the vast majority of former bison habitat to support a nation-wide listing for the conservation herds in public hands. A nation wide listing, as a practical matter, would require considerable expansion of habitat in the Great Plains devoted to bison conservation, public as well as private, although I would prefer public, in a buffalo commons, to use that disparaged term. I realize that efforts are underway to achieve just this.

    For example, regarding the comprehensive planning for Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in northern Montana, I and a few others are pushing for a transfer of BLM lands surrounding the Refuge to the NWRS to provide a better “design” to the Refuge than the very narrow, Missouri River-hugging boundaries that now exist. Bison need upland habitat. This transfer of jurisdiction would require Congressional action, because we’d be moving multiple use lands into conservation status, and obviously it wouldn’t be possible without strong Democratic control of Congress and the White House. The Montana and other western Congressional delegations would scream bloody murder over the proposal, which would necessarily eliminate domestic livestock grazing for a variety of reasons.

    As it is right now, it is Yellowstone bison that are under the most serious threat, and if a DPS listing will protect them from ravages of the livestock industry, and it’s all we can get, I’ll go for it.


  29. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I wouldn’t argue for a DPS listing. I’d argue they are threatened or endangered in their entirety.

  30. jjordan Avatar

    Does anyone know if PETA has ever gotten involved in this issue? They have been able to win some major cases to save animals from inhumane treatment, torture and death.

  31. Howard Avatar

    “…we have eliminated the bison from the VAST majority of its historical range and there are only three herds confirmed with no genetic introgression.”

    Hi JB. By genetic introgression, do you (or anyone else familiar with this subject) with domestic cattle? Why were bison crossed with Bos taurus? It is only recently that I learned that most of the extant bison in North America are partly domestic cattle (which means that the 100,000 + figure routinely given for bison population in North America is misleading and fraudulent). Which three populations are still pure bison? Yellowstone NP, Wood Buffalo NP in Canada,…what is the third?

    Do any private individuals possess genetically pure bison?

    What is the current status of a real legal challenge (which, if we won, would result in actually carrying out the decision) to the bison slaughter?


  32. Buffaloed Avatar


    Rachel Iadicicco, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service, said tests are being run on the diseased heifer to determine if the cow got the disease from other cattle, elk or bison.

    Similar tests were run on the Bridger cases, she said. Those showed that the cattle didn’t get the disease from other livestock, but they could not determine if the animals got the disease from bison or elk.

    This is interesting since the proper samples were not taken to be able to determine the source of infection.

  33. Buffaloed Avatar


    Yes, the vast majority of buffalo in North America are genetically hybridized with domestic cattle. Most of this hybridization occurred during Charles Goodnights experiments to breed a more docile but hardier breed of livestock for the west although some of the plains buffalo that were used to supplement the existing herd of buffalo in Yellowstone were also from his herd of genetically pure buffalo.

    I have posted this to another thread here:

    As far as the number of buffalo that still remain in Yellowstone. The official estimate as of April 11 is 2145. Since that time there has been a significant winter kill and green-up still is behind schedule. The number of buffalo is probably fewer than the 2100 number in the IBMP which requires that the agencies use non-lethal methods.

    What we have now is 4 genetically pure herds of buffalo.

    Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve which has ± 50 individuals
    Grand Teton National Park ± 700 individuals
    Wind Cave National Park ± 500 individuals
    Yellowstone National Park ± 2100 individuals

    That means that there are ±3350 genetically pure buffalo left in the U.S.

    But wait, there are problems with this.

    Wind Cave National Park shares a border with Custer State Park which has hybrid buffalo. These buffalo have been known to cross this border although there has been no confirmed reproduction between the two.

    The Teton Herd may also have problems. These buffalo came from Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Yellowstone National Park. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park herd has been shown to have cattle genes in them.

    In other words, YNP buffalo are the only sure thing here. We know that Yellowstone’s buffalo are genetically pure but it is not a sure thing that the other herds are pure or of significant size to ensure their own genetic diversity.

    You can read the study here:
    A Comprehensive Evaluation of Cattle Introgression into US Federal Bison Herds

  34. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    To respond to a few of the postings; If we limit qualifying criteria to sex only, males of all herd animals have a harder time of it than females.

    In Yellowstone historically the male bison start dying off a month to month and half earlier than females duing hard winters. This pertains mostly to immature males. Males have to grow a lot faster than females in order to be competitive for breeding and in order to be able to protect herd turf. This translates into a body structure unable to tolerate loss of food for long periods of time. Males counter some of this by being able to digest coarser foods than females.

    When we throw in the need for social structure (the larger the herd animal specie the more it depends on this…can’t flee as well) then any disruption of this infrastructure means matriarchal components start taking hits. This is what is happening in Yellowstone today.

    As far as “genetic purity” cattle and bison are closely related. In fact my brother, a college instructor (who taught the first major college bison management course) says they are more closely related than cattle and our rodeos Brahama’s. When cattle and bison roamed our frontier some cowboys quit the trail drives to sort out the stray cattle from the bison herds (order seeks out disorder). They made a lot more money doing so. Some guys could sort up to 2000 cattle per month. I’d say a fair more hybridizing took place in these “mixed” herds than on Mr. Goodnights ranch. All it would have taken is young male bison growing up to maturity with cattle in the herd.

    As far as categorizing as animals with genetic purity…aka Hitlers Nordic race qualifications…our esteemed scientists use very few markers to establish Aryan superiority. To me ten thousand “pure” bison deprived of learning from their ancestors doesn’t hold a candle, restoration wise, when compared to forty extended family bison …. who have maintained this learning for thousands of years. This is what Yellowstone has in its Pelican Mt. Bison herd. This is the herd that needs to be considered for endangered status.

    As a side note I see the Park listed this herd as having 500 individuals, which is about twice what it is able to maintain. I guess without an independent airplane flight we will never know how much of a fudge factor has been applied here as well.

  35. Howard Avatar

    I think the best case scenario is to preserve and recover genetically pure species–when POSSIBLE. At least at one time, bison were scientifically named Bison bison (I know should be italicized…can’t find italics on the pc I’m on at the moment!), but this may have been changed to Bos bison (anyone know?), in which case it has been put into the same genus as domestic cattle, Bos taurus. Bison and domestic cattle may indeed be much closer related than originally thought, but they are still distinct species from one another, with the now extinct aurochs Bos primigenius as the ancestor. Brahmas or zebu are (I believe) classified as Bos indicus and were derived from either the gaur or banteng… bison may indeed be closer to European cattle species breeds than European cattle are to Indian cattle species breeds, but bison are still a distinct species.

    Having said this, I do believe that conservationists can only work with what still exists, and cannot make everything “all or nothing”. I am quite content to classify a herd of animals that look like bison, behave like bison, and influence the ecosystem like bison… but turn out to technically have a few non-bison alleles… to be bison. I would especially feel this way if that’s all that were left… but as there are still some genetically pure Bos bison, I do think those populations should be given priority and serve as the breeding stock for (one day, God willing) reintroductions of bison. In terms of bison conservation, I do believe they are most valuable (this does not mean that other populations with some introgression are worthless, provided, at least in my opinion, that they are “mostly” bison and behave like wild bison).

    We are fortunate to have some genetically pure bison… as I said, I think conservation programs should prioritize pure members of a species when possible… when not possible, I certainly believe it is acceptable to conserve and propagate what “looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck” as it were. I agree with relocating 8 female Texas cougars to southern Florida to save that cougar population from genetic entropy and extinction. It would be nice to have “pure” Florida panthers (assuming one accepts the concept of subspecies and the validity of Puma concolor coryi) but there is a far greater difference between losing “pure coryi” (again, if there was such a thing) and losing the species Puma concolor in Florida. This is example is especially minor given that there is only one species involved; a muddier example may be the red wolf, all of those surving today may (I’m not sure) have some coyote alleles. It would be great to have 100% red wolves, but if none exist, I do not believe we should abandon the recovery program in North Carolina and kill all the animals as hybrids… if they’re genetically “mostly” red wolf and exhibit the consistent phenotype, behavior, and ecology of red wolves, I’m willing to call them red wolves.

    I do agree that the most valuable bison are ones that are truly ‘wild’, though some captive bred animals that were extinct in the wild have been successfully reintroduced, such as the Arabian oryx. Even so, it is far better to preserve our wild bison… having bison exist only in captivity, even if maintained genetically pure bison, would be an absolute tragedy.

  36. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Thanks as always Bob (oops I didn’t see Howard’s post until I was done)-

    From time to time, I have felt a bit uncomfortable about our concern for genetic purity (not that I don’t value it), but if we substitute the word “human” or “race” for genetically pure bison or wolf, we would soon have a very unpleasant thread.

    What truly counts for me is how the animal (or plant) in question interacts with the ecosystem — its the behavior.

    The American Rocky Mountains needed wolves, and their rapid population growth is evidence that they are very well suited to the existing ecosystems in the area.

    What some politicians, livestock operators and hunters see as a problem (the rapid growth of wolf population) is in fact the proof that wolf restoration was the correct thing to do.

  37. vicki Avatar

    Last weekend I was in a gas station in cattle friendly North Park, Colorado. I was talking with my sons about how bison used to be harvested in the valley there by Native Americans, and how wolves used to be an apex predator in that area. (In recent years there have been reported sightings of wolves in the area.)
    Much to my suprise, a group of bikers (Harley not Schwinn) chimed in and began asking questions.
    I was glad to give them info on your sight, as well as a few others, like Wildlife Watchers, and BFC. They were very interested in what I had to say.
    One gentleman did ask what effect wolves were having on cattle, and how many wolves I thought each state should have. It stumped me for a momment. Applying numbers to the whole situation seems to be what throws stop signs up in all conservation issues.
    I explained thatthere are varying scientific views, and although I advocate for wolves, bison and other species, I was not qualified to give specifics about what was sustainable numbers. I told him he should put calls in to his local Game and Fish office and legislator. But I assured him that although he will discover there are extreme views on both sides, most people I am aware of have a genuine concern for restoring the maximum balance POSSIBLE to the environment. I also told him most of us realize that we may have to agree to some numbers of animals being hunted, and are even willing to relent to management when it is necessary.
    That is when a lovely man (sarcasm) behind us stomped up, said I was full of S*#@, and told the biker that once we had wolves put back in Wyoming the began “breeding like rabbits”. He also tossed in some rather backwards remarks about how soon the whole country would be over run by Mexicans and Wolves and we’d all be eating chicken and beans.
    The biker stood up, and told the man he was out of line. The biker told the man to “turn on CNN, take a look at what famine does to humans who try to survive where they don’t belong, and that no people live in Antartica for a reason.” He then told the ranchers, “it seems kinda obvious to me that wolves will stop multiplying or die off when they can’t find food or shelter.”
    The man then slammed his cash on the counter and stormed out.
    I was suprised at the reaction I had gotten, and a little shaken by the comments the rude man had made. Frankly, ten years ago I would have been in the parking lot throwing blows with the jerk…but I have evolved! Now I throw words!!!
    I am trying to say I agree with your concern about the words “genetically pure”, because I see how this type of angry man could use those words to revert to ignorance aimed at innocent people, and that would put us back years in progress.
    Perhaps instead of saying genetically pure, we should call the historically original, or historically wild , heck I don’t know.
    I do admire and respect everything that Bob Jackson is trying to achieve. He is on the right track, but those words are potentially inflammatory.(Not everyone is capable of willing to see that animals are distinctly different from people in one sure way…they are not capable of hatred.)
    I also agree that wolves’ success is evidence to their belonging, and would say the same for bison, until we stomped on them. They are both quite beneficial to the ecosystem.

  38. Howard Avatar

    I have enormous respect for everyone on this forum, and it is with all sincerity that what I am about to write is not meant as angry, insulting, challenging, or inflammatory.

    I can’t understand the concern being expressed here about using the term “genetic purity” to refer to preserving distinct species of animals. Every species of animal (and plant, bacteria, etc.) contains a specific genome unique to that organism, thus making it a distinct species. This is the whole basis of biological diversity. Is a trout a trout, or is a cutthroat a different entity from a rainbow? I feel it is a unique and special entity, thus, I believe it is a worthwhile conservation goal to protect pure cutthroat populations from hybridization with introduced rainbows.

    Again, we are talking in biological terms about animals, not social terms with humans. Maybe I’m extraordinarily naive, and if so, I apologize for my myopia, but I cannot fathom any normal person naturally going from preserving the genetic identity of wildlife species to thoughts of racial superiority, eugenics, segregation, and genocide. By this, I do NOT mean that the folks who posted with this concern are “not normal”, but that any person who views this thread and assumes that this blog endorses ethnic cleansing and racial segregation has a brain I cannot comprehend.

    Of course there are sick bastards out there who believe some human races, ethnicities, etc. are superior to others…if such psychos want to use wildlife hybridization issues as fodder for their insane theories, I say let ’em…again, maybe I’m naive, but I think anyone who wants to compare the need to keep bison and cattle from interbreeding as “proof” that, say, inter-racial marriages are unnatural . . . unlike cattle and bison, all humans are a single species, so of course it is not “hybridization” . . . is showing the world how truly certifiably insane they are.

    I do not think that using the term “genetic purity” in direct reference to the species-specific genome of a non-human animal is troubling in any way. Once again, all humans are the same species (which is one of the reasons why racial superiority/inferiority theories are so UNscientific and insane) and I believe that there are categorical differences between the ecological/evolutionary relationship between animals and the rights/social interactions of human beings that make any comparison of the two illogical.

    If the term “genetic purity”, even in the species context, upsets people, I will refrain from using it as I have no desire to provoke other people in a fit of onanism, but again, I’m surprised by the reaction.

    One more thought. I know full well that science has been distorted and pseudoscience invented to justify eugenics, slavery, genocide, etc. throughout human history. There are many famous and terrible cases of “science” being used to classify people as sub-human. But its the people who “hijack” science to further their evil agendas—people like Nazis, and slavers, and Klansmen, etc.– that should be neutralized, not science itself. Banning phrases from our vocabulary that are both descriptive of what we mean and totally benign in context, on the grounds that it could conceivable be offensive if used differently in a completely different context, has its own potential dangers to human freedom.

    Once again, I mean no disrespect to anyone here, and of course agree completely that the concept of “genetic purity” has no place whatsoever in human relations.

  39. Jim Macdonald Avatar

    I think the issue isn’t whether there is such a thing as genetic distinctiveness (purity); the question is one of the values placed on certain beings over others because of their genetic make up.

    In particular to Yellowstone, what if so called plains bison had genetically mixed with Pelican Valley mountain bison so as to ruin the genetic purity of the herd. Is the Pelican Valley herd therefore not a viable and unique population even though it has otherwise retained its special behavioral and social characteristics? If genetic uniqueness is the only criteria by which we decide to save animals, then it does share the characteristic of those who practice eugenics to the extent that genetic uniqueness is considered the most important criteria for defining the value of a specific population.

    That’s where I think the concern comes from – not so much from a worry about valuing and identifying genetic purity but from the worry that this particular distinction is sometimes valued over other kinds of distinctions and ways of understanding beings as unique.

  40. Howard Avatar

    Jim—point well taken. Perhaps I focused too much on references to Hitler and concern about even using the phrase “genetic purity” and missed a larger, separate point.

    I actually agree… genetics cannot always be the first, last, only or most important criteria in wildlife. While I value species distinctiveness and think it should be preserved, as I said in one of my posts above about red wolves, “purity” isn’t everything and ecology should be considered as much as genetics. And, of course, an individual animal’s genetic “purity” or “impurity” does not exempt human beings from treating any creature humanely.

  41. Howard Avatar

    One last thing… I didn’t even know there was a herd of distinct mountain bison left in Yellowstone. I had thought they had all intermingled with plains bison. Interesting.

    The bison at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada are a true wild herd, yes? Are there any other wild bison herds in Canada?

    I’ve also herd that bison were once extremely abundant in Alaska. Is this referring to the Pleistocene, or to modern times? If in the Quaternary, what happened to deplete them? I do know that there is at least one bison herd (reintroduced, I believe) in eastern interior Alaska… is this herd free ranging?


  42. Catbestland Avatar

    Would genetic purity have any bearing on the decision to list the bison as and endangered species? I wouldn’t want opponents to be able to use argue that they are not genetically pure and therefore are not the same species that once existed in this area, so they don’t deserve protection. An argument similar to this was used to try and thwart wolf reintroduction efforts in that they said that the species reintroduced is not the one that was extirpated so they should not be “introduced”.

  43. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    I would like to make a point of “value of populations” by using the example of the American Prairie Foundations American Sarengetti’s attempt at reintroducing bison. The intent is not to pick on them, since this project is a clone of a many others, but since the sincerity to “get it right” is prominent in todays “restoration” environment it is a formulative work that many look to for guidance.

    The sole criteria for “restoration” on America’s Sarengetti was “genetic purity”. There has been no thought of behavior or learning passed on in order to ecologically restore this proposed landscape. I guess they thought these animals could do it on their own because they would be unmanaged and become “wild”…as compared to domestic ranching of these animals. To me “unmanaged” and “wild” are such cop outs compared to trying to understanding how herd animals function.

    To accomplish this restoration, in the name of science, calves and yearlings from Wind Cave have been transplanted over several years to the Preserves land in Montana. This was the worst choice of animals possible. No mothers, siblings or fathers. But the domestic community said older animals get out. Thus fear trumped logic.

    What does all this translate into ecologically? For one the Prairie Foundation is placing a Grassivore instead of a Herbivore on its lands. The difference is a biggy in the science world since the “big three” are Omnivores, Carnivores and Herbivores. Humans and bears as Omnivores are Carnivores without the training to make us Omnivores. Same for Herbivores. But there is no category for Grassivore. It is the incomplete portion of Herbivore. Yes, lack of knowledge by these dysfunctional bison of what they can eat means all of the Prairie Foundations lands are adversely affected ecologically.

    What is the time frame for this “animal” to become a legitimate broad leaf eater? Many generations of animals…..and much longer if the inevitable human management is carried out along lines as “wild” herds are perceived and managed now.

    Think of humans taken away from their parents as 2-5 year olds and then having to live their lives figuring out what foods are edible to them and we soon see what the imbalance on America’s Sarengetti’s lands will be happening for a long time to come.

    Second, with no elders around, think of how many communication skills these baby bison will be able to pass on to their offspring. As humans on this forum we use a lot of words to assist what we want to say ….that have been passed on for thousands of years. Now think of pre school kids being isolated from any contact with learned knowledge forever and think of how limited their interaction with others becomes. Forget the sign language scenario of Indians as being an option because these people could communicate well with those of their own tribe. They had a learning basis to go from when they sign languaged with other tribes. The American Prairie’s Foundation bison foster childen have no foster parents…just far off purchasers of land. With the lack of communications, emotions such as fear, panic, and aggression will dominate this Aryan herd for a long time. Stampede in 20 years, anyone?? Better have some physical barriers out there on the boundaries.

    Third, think of herd animals such as bison needing social order to survive as a species and we soon realize there is no way these totally disfunctional animals can pick mates, look to role models, graze the landscape as a function of social order or do much of anything other than pick their noses (hooves) effectively.

    We, as humans, would never expect human orphans, nor their offspring, nor these offsprings offspring to function in enough capacity to be compatable with each other or this earths landscape. But this is what this worlds wildlife managers are promoting and endorsing ….all to obtain “genetic purity”.

    How is the American Sarengetti’s herd going to have any chance at “restoration” in the future if this countries managers are so blind to understanding the needs of animals now? It is like all animals are freak shows. I don’t understand it.

  44. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Howard, To answer your question on Mt. Bison in Yellowstone I ask another question, “What allows a Chinatown to maintain itself in the heart of White San Francisco”? Culture and infrastruture.

    If Yellowstone’s original Mt. Bison had everything they needed and could manage in their environment better than the introduced Plains bison, except for the need for new blood, why would they want to “intermingle” and lose their identity with those who don’t know whats going on? Of course they didn’t and that is why one sees so much distinct behavioral differences in the Pelican Herd and those bison in the rest of the Park. Of course, what is the real downer for expansion of this 1000’s year old herd is its heightened flight behavior during the cow – calf formative times of the spring and summer. Unless the Park sees the light and stops back country use in its core area during these times this herd of Mt. Bison is destined for the category of animals we “use to have”.

  45. vicki Avatar

    Every time I read one of your posts, I feel more educated. I appreciate that.
    I agree. The term does not offend me, and I have two children of multi-ethnic backgrounds. I am not hyper sensitive, I learned it was a waste of time years ago. However, I think the point about the term was more that there are those loonies and hate riddled folks who would use this as a way to capitalize on a scientific implication for the need for purity. Humans are not all genetically the same, and there are certain markers and physical traits that are very different among us. However, we exist in the same way. Much like Bob says diversity and uniqueness are qualifiers….I thanks you so much for your insite.

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Brian Ertz