A $2.8 million agreement has been reached that will expand the northern range for Yellowstone National Park bison. Under the agreement, cattle will be removed from the Royal Teton Ranch for the next 30 years.
The agreement announced this afternoon in Bozeman, Montana, comes in the wake of a biting Government Accountability Office report that chided state and federal agencies for failing to make headway on a solution to fears that Yellowstone bison might spread brucellosis to Montana cattle herds.
This long has been more of a political problem than a biological problem, for there never has been a documented case of bison-to-cattle transmission of brucellosis, which can cause livestock to abort their fetuses. Nevertheless, fears of that occurring have led to the slaughter of thousands of Yellowstone bison in recent years. This winter alone nearly 1,300 bison have been killed in the name of brucellosis control.
Today's agreement was announced by Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis, Church Universal and Triumphant, Inc., President Kate Gordon, and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Under its provisions, the Park Service is providing $1.5 million towards the $2.8 million package being given to the church, which owns the Royal Teton Ranch.
Another $1 million towards the package has been pledged, but not yet obtained, by a coalition of state and national wildlife and conservation associations.
“This agreement is a major step forward for bison. We agree that the practical way to resolve the bison controversy is to provide winter and spring habitat outside the park," said Hank Fischer of the National Wildlife Federation. "Grazing retirements, negotiated with willing sellers, facilitate change without economic hardship.”
The expansion of grazing range for bison has been called for under the Interagency Bison Management Plan agreed upon in 2000. That plan is intended to produce an acceptable management plan for bison that routinely head north out of Yellowstone to their traditional wintering grounds. The plan specifically called for removal of cattle from the Royal Teton Ranch "to provide increased tolerance for bison outside the park's northern boundary," park officials said in a prepared release.
“The National Park Service deserves an immense amount of credit for securing $1.5 million to fulfill a key commitment of the Interagency Bison Management Plan.” said Tim Stevens of the National Parks Conservation Association. “We applaud Superintendent Suzanne Lewis for her leadership in helping to find positive solutions for bison.”
Added Craig Sharpe of the Montana Wildlife Federation: “This agreement moves us closer to managing bison like other wildlife species. It creates additional winter range for bison and an expanded opportunity for fair chase hunting on the Gallatin National Forest.”
While today's news addresses the perceived bison problem, it says nothing of how to eliminate the potential risk of brucellosis transmission from elk, which also carry the disease and which are suspected to have recently transferred the disease to cattle. And it provides no update on efforts to develop a brucellosis vaccine for bison.