Many national parks are hemmed in by development or private lands, parks where natural ecological processes are being short-circuited. But none have such an iconic poster child as Yellowstone National Park does with bison, an animal emblematic of the West that existed before settlement.
Settlement, of course, arrived long ago, and today Yellowstone is framed by a mix of public and private lands, some of which are range for cattle and, at times, bison. And that's the rub, for livestock interests in many instances take extreme exception to bison for the risk they pose as carriers of brucellosis, a disease that can lead to aborted fetuses in cattle.
For more than a decade this dilemma often has been solved by killing bison. By some accounts, more than 6,000 Yellowstone bison have been killed since 1985 in the name of brucellosis prevention.
While the Interagency Bison Management Plan was adopted in 2000 by a mix of state, federal, and tribal entities with the clear intent of finding a solution to the annual ritual of hazing and, at times, killing bison outright, it has failed to solve the problem of bison heading out of Yellowstone to avoid the brunt of winter. Other solutions proposed for resolving the annual conflicts, such as buying grazing rights for the bison just beyond the park's northern border with hopes the animals would roam between the park and national forest lands and avoid livestock, also have failed.
Against that backdrop, 17 members of Congress -- all Democrats in the House of Representatives -- have written National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis asking that he and his "creative staff ... strive for a new policy that is firmly grounded in the founding principles of the National Park Service."
Beyond their iconic image as a symbol of strength and wildness, they are one of most popular species for Yellowstone visitors, a year-round source of tourism intrinsic to the regional and tri-state economies. More importantly, the Yellowstone bison are the world’s last herd of purebred wild buffalo. Due largely to the confining prescriptions of the IBMP, NPS and its partner agencies have become too comfortable managing these bison like livestock; the last group of an entire species deserve far better than our current management efforts.
In their letter (attached) -- principally authored by Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, and Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona -- the Democrats tell Director Jarvis that the Interagency Bison Management Plan adopted in 2000 has not evolved over the years and needs to be replaced. Specifically, they note that revisions in federal brucellosis policy when it comes to Yellowstone bison, changes in livestock grazing patterns on public lands outside the park where bison typically head, and better understanding of bison genetics and the spread of brucellosis need to be integrated into a revised approach to dealing with Yellowstone's bison.
Considering the many land-use changes, advancements in scientific understanding of bison and brucellosis, and recent changes to federal brucellosis policy, it has become abundantly clear that the IBMP must be replaced.
We ask NPS to work diligently toward a new policy that places the conservation of bison and the end of invasive livestock practices, including the unnecessary hazing, capture and slaughter of bison, as top priorities. We especially urge NPS to work closely with the current IBMP’s Native American partners in the development and implementation of a new bison policy.