Yellowstone National Park Officials Opt Not To Use "Remote Vaccination" Program For Bison

Yellowstone National Park officials don't want to use a "remote vaccination" approach to containing the spread of brucellosis in bison. Marcelle Shoop photo.

Saying it doesn't "make sense," Yellowstone National Park officials don't want to use a "remote vaccination" program in a bid to prevent the spread of brucellosis within the park's bison herds.

Instead, the park prefers to continue its "currently authorized syringe vaccination of bison calves and yearlings periodically captured at the northern boundary of the park."

The remote vaccination program would have delivered the vaccine, in the form of an "absorbable bullet," via air gun. However, officials couldn't gauge how successful that program would be in halting the spread of brucellosis, which can cause livestock to abort their fetuses.

“We don’t think it makes any sense to spend millions of taxpayer dollars and invest 30 years of effort in hopes of a small reduction in the prevalence of brucellosis in bison with no significant benefit to bison conservation,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk. “The fact is that by working with our federal, state, and tribal partners we have completely kept wild bison from infecting area livestock with brucellosis.”

Ironically, cattle brought this non-native disease to the region when pioneers settled the West. The disease was subsequently transmitted to local wildlife populations. Many bison and elk in the 28,000-square-mile Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have been exposed to the bacterium that causes brucellosis.

The preferred alternative in the park's final Environmental Impact Statement that examined the vaccination options "is supported by the inclusive IBMP Citizen’s Working Group, several American Indian Tribes, the Intertribal Buffalo Council, and the conclusions of a February 2013 Bison/Brucellosis Science panel composed of disease experts and organized by the NPS and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks," park officials noted.

The EIS was prepared in response to a commitment the NPS made in 2000 as part of a court-mediated settlement between the federal government and the State of Montana that resulted in the creation of the Interagency Bison Management Plan.

Superintendent Wenk will use the analysis and recommendations contained in the Final EIS to make a final recommendation to the National Park Service Intermountain regional director regarding bison remote vaccination. The Regional Director is expected to issue a Record of Decision (ROD) in late winter or early spring.