Editor's note: More than 200 Yellowstone National Park bison have been killed so far this winter. Why? Ostensibly to prevent the spread of brucellosis, a disease that can cause livestock to spontaneously abort fetuses. This past weekend the Buffalo Field Campaign, a group organized to oppose the killings, held a protest in West Yellowstone, Montana, to draw attention to the killings. Jim Macdonald attended the protest and files this story.
This Saturday, in West Yellowstone, Montana, members of Buffalo Field Campaign rallied outside of Yellowstone National Park's West Entrance to call attention to and protest the ongoing hazing and killing of Yellowstone bison by the National Park Service and Montana's Department of Livestock.
As part of a week of action, Buffalo Field Campaign rallied, marched, and performed street theater. As snowmobiles and snowcoaches entered and left the park, they were greeted by a puppet dressed as the grim reaper pinned with an identifying sign that simply said "Park Service."
In the past week, at least 127 bison have been shipped to slaughter by the Park Service, which captured the bison at the Stephens Creek facility near Yellowstone's North Entrance. Another 17 were to have been shipped to slaughter Saturday. The numbers of bison shipped to slaughter have surpassed the numbers (112) killed in Montana's bison hunt, which ended Saturday.
According to a Park Service press release, the bison herd had moved "toward or across the park boundary, where cattle graze on private land. Under the (Interagency Bison Management Plan]), the park works with other agencies to conserve a viable, wild bison population while cooperating to protect Montana’s brucellosis-free status."
However, the Buffalo Field Campaign claims that there "has never been a documented case of a wild, free-roaming buffalo infecting domestic cattle with brucellosis." Instead, the group argues that "public lands currently designated for livestock grazing should be reclassified to give priority to native wildlife species, including wild buffalo."
At the rally, there was some interaction with Yellowstone visitors and Buffalo Field Campaign volunteers. Some posed for pictures with Buffalo Field Campaign while some questioned what the rally was about. One man on a snowmobile inquired about the buffalo masks. He asked if the volunteers put them on whether he'd be permitted to shoot one of them. In retort, a volunteer quipped, "Do you work for the government?"
It's not clear how many Yellowstone visitors are aware that the National Park Service is engaged in hazing and slaughtering buffalo inside of Yellowstone.
As the bison hunt ends, Buffalo Field Campaign volunteers are beginning to transition into the next phase in the season, where the Montana Department of Livestock hazes and slaughters buffalo, usually west of the park at its Horse Butte facility. According to a volunteer, the Department of Livestock had not yet prepared the facility.
Bison numbers were estimated this past fall at 4,700. To date, this winter, 239-256 have been killed by hunts and by slaughter. The total killed already surpasses the 69 killed last winter and is on its way toward approaching the 2005-06 total of 1,016 and the 1996-97 total of 1,084, which still ranks as the highest number of bison killed during a single season.
Since 1985, more than 5,200 bison have been killed.