|Yellowstone Bison Slaughter
Article 12/13/04- Op Ed
Vaccinating Wild Buffalo is Wrong
By Dan Brister
Helena Independent Record, Op Ed
the wild buffalo of Yellowstone National Park is an inherent
contradiction that should be opposed by all who care about
the wild lands and creatures of our magnificent state.
The proper focus of vaccination efforts should be the
livestock for which the proposed vaccine was developed,
not the continent's only continuously wild and genetically
Yellowstone is the only place in America where wild buffalo
were not exterminated during the 19th century. Today's
herd owes its existence to 23 individual buffalo that
survived the mass slaughter by taking refuge in the park's
remote Pelican Valley. What should be celebrated as one
of humankind's most successful conservation stories is
undermined by the incessant harassment, capture, and slaughter
being orchestrated by Montana's powerful livestock industry.
Don't be fooled. Vaccination will not make things any
better for the buffalo or Montana's tarnished image. It
is only the latest weapon in an arsenal being used to
domesticate the Yellowstone herd. Captured calves between
the ages of 4 and 24 months will be rounded up, separated
from their mothers, confined in pens, tested for brucellosis
antibodies, injected with a vaccine that even the DOL
admits is ineffective, fitted with a permanent ear-tag,
and then released.
There has never been a documented brucellosis transmission
from wild buffalo to livestock.
The test to determine which calves are slaughtered and
which vaccinated is the same serology test that currently
dictates the fate of captured buffalo. The test only detects
antibodies to brucellosis and not the disease itself.
Brucellosis-exposed buffalo can develop their own antibodies
and successfully immunize themselves, much like a child
exposed to chickenpox does. Like the child with chickenpox,
a brucellosis-exposed buffalo will carry the antibody
for the rest of its life without being contagious.
The DOL's vaccination program is intended to reduce the
risk of brucellosis transmission by reducing brucellosis
exposure in buffalo. Yet even the DOL's most optimistic
estimate admits that 15 consecutive years of vaccinating
captured buffalo calves will only reduce exposure rates
from 45 to 30 percent. And this says nothing of Yellowstone's
elk, which are also exposed to brucellosis.
Brucellosis exposure rates are much higher when animals
are concentrated in large numbers. Between 17 and 60 percent
of Northwest Wyoming feed-ground elk test positive for
exposure while zero to five percent of free-roaming elk
in Montana test positive. Allowing buffalo to access their
native range in Montana will do more to reduce brucellosis
exposure than inoculating them with the ineffective RB51
The goal of eliminating brucellosis in Yellowstone's wildlife
is unattainable. Rather than focus on the region's free-roaming
buffalo and elk, we should focus on cattle. If the livestock
industry is so concerned about brucellosis, why don't
they replace the few cattle that graze in the conflict
zone with brucellosis-safe livestock like steers and horses?
Spatial and temporal separation--making sure buffalo and
cattle cows don't come in contact with one another--is
a far more sensible approach than the current buffalo
management plan that squanders millions of tax dollars
and tarnishes Montana's image every year.
The Yellowstone buffalo are the only living link to the
great herds of millions that once thundered across the
plains. Let us be remembered as the generation that protected
them and their wildness, not the generation who domesticated
them to allay the unfounded fears of Montana's powerful
Dan Brister is Project Coordinator with the Buffalo Field
Campaign. He has spent the past eight winters in the field
protecting the Yellowstone buffalo.