a quarantine may save a few animals, but also sends half of
the herd to its unnecessary death. By setting up a quarantine,
some of the buffalo that would otherwise be killed would be
spared if the government decides to adopt a radical plan to
eradicate brucellosis from the herd. But, the quarantine would
result in far more deaths than lives saved.
By supporting a quarantine, one agrees to the testing of the
herd for brucellosis and the killing of those animals that
test positive. In the case of the Yellowstone herd, about
50% will test positive, even though the vast majority of them,
because of sex, age or reproductive status, cannot transmit
the disease, and even though the disease does not negatively
affect them, and they have never transmitted it to cattle
over the more than eighty years they have lived with the disease.
One is therefore agreeing to kill half of the Yellowstone
buffalo herd simply because they test positive for a disease
which does not affect them, and which they have never transmitted
The real purpose of the proposed quarantine is not disease
management, as the State of Montana would like us to believe,
but rather to ensure that buffalo do not roam free so they
wont compete with livestock grazing on public lands
bordering the Park. Public lands bordering Yellowstone have
officially been designated as wildlife habitat. Allowing buffalo
on these lands would highlight the land use conflict between
buffalo and cattle, and would put use of this land by cattle
under public scrutiny--something the livestock industry does
not want, especially since cattle are grazing on these lands
with hefty subsidies, the land was purchased by the federal
government specifically for wildlife, the official U.S. Forest
Service plans for that land stipulate that wildlife must receive
preference there, and, finally, livestock are only supposed
to be there if their use of the land is copasetic with wildlife
(not vice-versa as has been the actual practice).
Quarantine sets a dangerous precedent. Quarantine means confinement.
Advocating a quarantine for the Yellowstone herd is especially
dangerous because this is one of very few free-roaming herds
left in the country (there are only two others in the lower
48 and these are both much smaller herds). The Yellowstone
herd is the longest free-roaming herd in existence. The approach
promoted by Montana is to treat wild buffalo like cattle.
Advocating quarantine sends the message to Montana that this
Some groups who would otherwise not want to see wild buffalo
confined are supporting the quarantine because they believe
that a huge area would be fenced that would allow buffalo
to live more or less naturally while in quarantine. The government
has no intention of building a huge quarantine. Montana's design
is based on 50 acres -- the federal governments design is
for 50 - 500 acres. Even if 500 acres are set aside for a
quarantine, this would be divided into at least 5 areas (of
maximum 100 acres), and animals would be separated by age
and sex nowhere near natural conditions.
Buffalo would have to stay in quarantine for more than a year and
many would have to stay much longer. Female calves, for example,
would stay in quarantine for four years or so because they
would have to grow to sexual maturity and deliver their own
calves within quarantine before they are released. If even
one tests positive while in quarantine (very likely), all
others would have to begin the quarantine period over again.
Family members will be separated from each other. Social structures
will be destroyed or severely disrupted. Natural patterns
of land use may be broken. Knowledge that is normally passed
on from generation to generation within the herd may be lost.
Wild buffalo are often injured, and some die, in confinement.
If held in confinement for long periods, their spirits can
be broken. Confining wild buffalo, taking them out of their
homelands, and separating them from their relatives, is not
There is no scientific justification for quarantining Yellowstone
buffalo. Confining Yellowstone buffalo to a quarantine merely
serves to placate the powerful Montana livestock industry
at the expense of the buffalo. Dr. Paul Nicoletti, a leading expert
on brucellosis says, Quarantining bison which stray outside
Yellowstone is expensive and very difficult, with little impact
on incidence or transmission of brucellosis.
In his article Tatanka Returns, Richard Simonelli states,
"It is very important that the proud spirit of the buffalo
be left unbroken by feedlots, dehorning, chronic medication,
intensive management, breakup of natural social units, premature
slaughter, and genetic engineering practices such as artificial
insemination and fertilized embryo implants. It is very important
to Native people, and perhaps to all those concerned with
a healthy ecology, that the buffalo remain essentially wild."