The Yellowstone buffalo death toll is steadily rising. Three more bull buffalo were killed by hunters since our last Update, and now there are currently no wild buffalo in Montana. But as winter approaches and the snows build, more buffalo will have to seek lower elevation habitat outside of park boundaries, migrating into Montana where hunters line up at Yellowstone’s border waiting to make their kills. Montana’s canned approach to buffalo hunting — fully supported by the agencies signed on to the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) — equates to nothing more than a buffalo extermination plan with hunters being used as tools to serve Montana’s cattle interests. Regardless of their endangered status, the country’s last wild buffalo are persistently persecuted for crimes they’ve never committed. Even with the recent victory of year-round habitat in the Hebgen Basin along Yellowstone’s western edge, there is no year-round resident population of wild buffalo in Montana. And there never will be so long as every buffalo who dares to walk into Montana is shot, or flees for fear of being killed.
This is exactly what Montana livestock interests want. The Yellowstone buffalo hunt being a legitimate management tool is a facade to conceal the harsh reality that cattle is still king. Under Montana law MCA 81-2-120, the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) reigns over wild buffalo that migrate out of Yellowstone, and it is the DOL who authorizes the state hunt, set the arbitrary population cap within the IBMP, and are applying pressure to open Yellowstone National Park to hunting. Indeed, if it weren’t for this state law, which you can help BFC to repeal, there would be no need for the Interagency Bison Management Plan, wildlife professionals would be in charge, the capture facilities would be dismantled, and wild buffalo would be free to roam, restoring themselves throughout the Yellowstone Ecosystem, Montana, and beyond.
Why do Montana livestock interests have so much control over the world’s most important bison population? They will say that it is because they fear that wild bison may transmit the cattle disease brucellosis to their cows. It is important to understand that brucellosis is an invasive bacteria that came to this country with Eurasian cattle. Brucellosis entered the Yellowstone bison and elk populations through human error, and, thankfully, both bison and elk have developed resistance (antibodies) to this disease. Most importantly, there has never been even one documented case of wild buffalo transmitting brucellosis back to cattle, even where the two species coexist. Elk, on the other hand, have transmitted brucellosis numerous times to livestock in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Just this week another cattle herd was found to have brucellosis, and the blame is being put on elk. Yet elk are free to roam while severe and fatal control measures are placed upon wild buffalo, our National Mammal. Why the hypocrisy? In truth, cattle interests have been trying to use brucellosis to control the buffalo in the name of economic interests.
The war against wild buffalo has nothing to do with brucellosis and everything to do with the grass and who gets to eat it, as well as the continuing manipulation of Native American buffalo cultures. The brucellosis argument is so full of holes, in fact, that in recent years, the IBMP decision-makers have turned their ‘reasoning’ further away from brucellosis towards the false premise that there are ’surplus’ wild buffalo and they must be killed. There is no such thing as ’surplus’ wild buffalo. The term is intended for herds managed under a livestock paradigm who are fenced in on limited land. Hunters are falling for this, or thoughtlessly taking advantage of it, choosing to believe that buffalo must be killed because of the government spin claiming that they are overpopulated, when nothing could be further from the truth. And when hunters fail to satisfy the buffalo blood lust of Montana’s cattle barons, Yellowstone will bend over backwards to do their bidding, rounding up hundreds of ecologically extinct wild buffalo to ship them to slaughter.