If any animal is iconic of Yellowstone National Park, that would be the bison. These massive, shaggy animals are a throwback to the days of the "Wild West" when vast millions lived on the high plains. As the American nation grew and populations slowly moved westward, these herds were all but wiped out.
Today, bison largely are found only in Yellowstone, although there are some in the Henry Mountains of southern Utah, some in the National Bison Range in Montana, some on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, and others in private ranches.
However, if a short-sighted effort by a cattlemen's group gains traction, the Yellowstone herd could be drastically reduced.
The plan, as outlined in the Casper Star-Tribune by Brodie Farquhar, comes in the form of a request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to wipe out brucellosis in Yellowstone's bison herds. Ironically, brucellosis, a disease that can cause cattle to abort their unborn fetuses, was introduced to bison by....cattle a little more than a century ago.
The request to Ag Secretary Mike Johanns came from "R-CALF" -- the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund. Now, while the newspaper story doesn't say whether the request actually calls for destroying Yellowstone's bison herds, currently the only way to eradicate brucellosis from bison is to kill those that have the disease.
“What R-CALF is really calling for,” Amy McNamara of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition told Farquhar, “is the mass wasting of wildlife and the agricultural management of wildlife, rather than allowing wildlife agencies to do their job.”
Of course, one of the problems with R-CALF's request is that bison aren't the only animals that carry brucellosis. Elk that live in and around Yellowstone also have been known to carry, and transmit, the disease. Yet the cattlemen's group is not asking that brucellosis be wiped out from those elk herds.
That just might be because such a proposal would inflame hunters.