Yellowstone National Park has a public relations nightmare on its hands as it tries to find a workable bison management plan.
Not only is the park catching flack for allowing hundreds of bison to be sent off to slaughter, but the other day two bison drowned while hazers were pushing them across ice-covered Hebgen Lake.
The hazing program has been controversial from the start. It's designed to prevent brucellosis -- a disease that can cause livestock to abort their fetuses -- from spreading from bison to cattle. In a sad sort of irony, brucellosis long ago was introduced to wildlife from domestic cattle herds.
Another sad point is that the bison are getting in trouble simply by following their innate migration tendencies to head out of the park in winter to lower elevations with better forage. Unfortunately, their traditional habitat does not all fall on public lands and, due to the concern over brucellosis, threatens to impact Montana's "brucellosis free" status for its cattle herds.
Yellowstone's bison management plan adopted back in 2000 calls for bison that wander out of Yellowstone and into Montana to either be hazed back into the park or, if that doesn't work, captured and sent off to slaughter.
This year the bison capture program is being conducted under a cloud of controversy in part because those animals being sent off to slaughter are not being tested to see if they have brucellosis. Currently an estimated 300 bison are heading to slaughterhouses.
The other day the controversy thickened when bison being hazed across Hebgen Lake broke through the ice. According to a story in the Billings Gazette, two of the animals drowned, two managed to get out on their own, and ten had to be pulled to safety.
Bison advocates say this week's events exposed problems with the bison management plan. What the solution is remains to be seen, however.