Some In Congress Urge National Park Service To Find Solution for Yellowstone National Park Bison

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.

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Grijalva Bison Letter.pdf412.18 KB

Comments

The NPS could probably come up with a scientifically-based solution tomorrow, which Congress would reject on political grounds on the day after tomorrow. The problem here isn't with the NPS.

blaming the nps is like blaming the bullet.

These guys were so worried about how NPS was managing bison in Yellowstone, they couldn't come up with an annual budget for the whole country until 6 months into the budget year. I wonder how much the final budget allocated to developing a new policy for the bison?

Let the bison roam! They shouldn't be managed as livestock, they are wildlife! The cattle industry should not have any more say over where the bison migrate!

I agree with C.C. Let them do what they have to. Many bison cannot survive the Yellowstone winters and have to migrate to find better grazing, which means they have to go out of the park. There has not been a single documented case where burcellosis has been transfered from bison (or elk) to cattle. And the way I understand it, cattle would have to eat the placenta or newborn bison calf to get it (hopefully the studies I have read are right on this!)

The NPS is a major part of this problem. They have known the truth regarding the politics and science of this issue for years, and have failed to provide moral leadership.

Yellowstone bison, as well as, many species in the area host a disease called Brucellosis; in about 10 to 15% of its population. The State of Montana is responsible for actively managing the disease, and preserving the states’ status of being “Brucellosis Free.” This designation allows stock growers to sell their live stock (beef cows) across state lines and to international markets (always follow the money). If there was no more to the story than those facts, direct reduction would seem like a viable and reasonable alternative, however there is so much more to this story.

To aid explanation, try to imagine that we were able to use a magic wand and make all the bison disappear from the face of the earth. If we could do this, the assumption would be that there would be no more Brucellosis in the ecosystem, thus the problem would be solved. However, the truth is this removal would do nothing to eliminate or control Brucellosis. Brucellosis exists in near equal percentages in many park undulates (hoofed animals), like elk, pronghorn antelope and moose, as well as, mammals, such as Grizzly Bears. In fact, Brucellosis is wide spread through the entire ecosystem, both in and out of the park. Then why is the issue managed and communicated as if it were exclusively a bison issue? Why are park managers not targeting other wildlife species and shooting them, along with the bison? The answer is complicated and unsavory. Its all about business, money and managing preception. The State of Montana, the Stock Growers Association and the NPS have massively manipulated the public with this issue.

In theory, it is speculated, that when bison are caving a domestic beef cow could come by and lick the placenta of a newborn bison calf and become infected with Brucellosis. Of course, this is nearly an impossible scenario, with nearly no chance of it ever occurring in the wild - and never has. However, because of this highly remote and extremely unlikely scenario for disease transmission, bison are shot when they exit the park.

The devil is always in the details. First of all, the bison rarely leave the park, except during the winter months, seeking lower ground and forage - aided by groomed roadways. Importantly, the bison calving period occurs in the late Spring and early Summer, not during the winter months. No domestic beef cows winter on the Yellowstone Plateau, both in or outside of the park. So, at no time could the two species ever come in contact, especially during the caving season. In fact, there are very few beef cows summering in the areas adjacent to Yellowstone’s western boundary, and they do not get trucked in from their winter pastures until well after the bison calving season is over. The park directs rangers to kill the bison during the winter, when no beef cows are present and will not be present for six months or more. This also includs the killing of the male bull bison, which present no threat of Brucellosis transmission at all.

However, for argument sake, let’s say the species did overlap. The fact is that during caving season the bison are always in the park, never do they give birth outside the park. Beef cows are never in the park, nor anywhere near the Yellowstone boundary. However, as the theory goes, a cow could potentially lick a newborn bison placenta, thus contracting the disease. For those who have had the opportunity to watch bison calving, you would soon learn that there are many predators that are tuned into this calving cycle and they depend directly upon feeding on the bison afterbirth. These animals would never allow the placenta to be unattended for more than a few seconds. A combination of crows, coyotes, fox and now wolves consume this afterbirth in a matter of seconds.

Eventually, one has to deal with the fact that this is not a bison issue at all. The rationale for killing bison is greatly flawed. If we accept the basic premise for disease transfer, we would have to kill many wildlife species, many of which exist in much larger numbers than the bison, such as the elk, which number in the tens of thousand.

The fact is, the State of Montana is managing perceptions, thinly cloaked in a veil of bad science, for the purpose of protecting and preserving economic markets for stock growers. The NPS knows this, and has enabled the state and the stock growers assocation for years. The NPS has demonstrated weak and ineffective leadership on this, and many issues. The NPS professes that it makes science based decisions and justified replacing many superintendents with those with resource management backgounds. However, clearly they can not make a decision, stand up for science or agency values. The Bison and Winter Use issues in Yellowstone have been managed terribly. The likeihood of this generation of NPS "leadership" ethically sloving this issue is very remote.

It seems like congress is sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong again.