As the killing of Yellowstone National Park bison continues, a coalition of groups is looking for congressional support to fund a solution.
Earlier this month the National Parks Conservation Association, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Montana Wildlife Federation, and the National Wildlife Federation wrote Montana's congressional delegation with a request that they get actively involved in the bison matter.
Already more than 1,040 park bison have been killed because they tried to head out of the park to lower wintering grounds. Another 160 are waiting to be shipped to slaughter. Why? Out of concern that they might harbor brucellosis, a disease that can cause livestock to abort their fetuses.
Today the groups called on Montana's congressional delegation -- Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Representative Dennis Rehberg -- to seek federal funding that might allow some bison to migrate safely onto adjacent lands outside Yellowstone. Additionally, they want the delegation to look into why a "locally negotiated and federally and publicly supported agreement to remove cattle during the winter from the Royal Teton Ranch, owned and managed by the Church Universal and Triumphant, adjacent to Yellowstone has apparently stalled."
That agreement was intended to allow bison to migrate through the Royal Teton Ranch and onto an additional 7,500 acres of winter habitat on public lands.
"Unfortunately, while federal agencies, specifically APHIS, have so far refused to commit resources towards completing the RTR agreement, the hazing, capture, and slaughter of bison has reached record levels this year," said Tim Stevens, Yellowstone Field Office Program Manager for the NPCA. "Several organizations have already expressed a willingness to raise private financial support for this agreement, but the federal government must do its part by providing critical funding and completing the deal."
The National Park Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the U.S. Forest Service, and the Montana Departments of Livestock and Fish, Wildlife and Parks signed the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) in 2000 to "maintain a wild, free-ranging population of bison and address the risk of brucellosis transmission to protect the economic interest and viability of the livestock industry in the state of Montana." The grazing retirement of the Royal Teton Ranch is part of this plan.
"Nearly eight years after the implementation of the management plan, bison remain largely restricted to within the boundaries of Yellowstone due to the failure of federal agencies to move beyond step one of the plan, which was supposed to happen by 2002," said Amy McNamara, national parks program director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "We are asking that Congress request the federal agencies to step up and help implement the RTR agreement by allocating the appropriate funding in the next appropriations cycle."
"This agreement moves us closer to managing bison just like other wildlife species and follows the letter of the law, however it alone is not the sole solution to managing bison outside of Yellowstone," said Craig Sharpe, executive director of Montana Wildlife Federation. "Without a commitment of funds by the federal government, the RTR agreement will not go through and the bison management plan will remain stuck on step one."
"This opportunity to resolve a significant part of the bison controversy could be lost if federal agencies fail to act," said Hank Fischer, special projects coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. "After long and difficult negotiations with the Church Universal and Triumphant, an agreement has finally been reached to remove the livestock and create the bison corridor, and it would be tragic if the agreement is not acted on."