For Immediate Release:
April 15, 2005
Stephany Seay, 406-646-0070
West Yellowstone, Montana - This morning the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) sent another 25 of America's last wild, genetically pure buffalo to slaughter and another four calves to a quarantine facility. On Wednesday the DOL captured 51 wild buffalo after they were chased off of their calving grounds at Horse Butte over ten miles to the Duck Creek Bison Trap. Of the 25 buffalo sent to slaughter, six were bulls. Bulls pose no risk of brucellosis transmission.
"This week is the worst the buffalo have seen this year," said Mike Mease of the Buffalo Field Campaign, a front lines bison advocacy group. "The current buffalo slaughter has nothing to do with brucellosis or science; it's a range war and a disgrace to Montana."
Since October 2004, the Department of Livestock has captured 133 wild Yellowstone buffalo. So far this year, the DOL has sent 65 wild buffalo to slaughter, while 14 calves are now confined in a quarantine facility, and 54 have been returned to Horse Butte. Horse Butte is part of the Gallatin National Forest, public land surrounded by water and the traditional calving grounds of the wild buffalo. There are no active cattle grazing allotments there, yet Montana's zero-tolerance policy prevents buffalo from accessing this public land.
Before he was elected Governor, Brian Schweitzer said that under his administration buffalo would enjoy more tolerance in Montana. In his statements, Schweitzer said that management of buffalo and the protection of Montana's brucellosis-free status should be determined by "science, not hyperbole," and that the DOL is "ill-equipped" to manage wild buffalo for the State of Montana.
"Governor Schweitzer should step up to the plate and take immediate action by stripping the DOL's management authority over wild bison and returning it to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, providing adequate habitat for wild buffalo within Montana's borders, and classifying wild buffalo as a valued wildlife species," said Stephany Seay of the Buffalo Field Campaign. "Allowing buffalo access to Horse Butte - public land where there are no cattle grazing allotments - is a great place for the governor to demonstrate that buffalo will enjoy more tolerance in Montana."
Inaccurate Brucellosis Testing
Buffalo develop immunities to the European livestock disease brucellosis and retain long-term anti-bodies, and are only tested for exposure to the disease. The government has started using fluorescent polarization assay (FPA) tests to determine which buffalo are slaughtered and which are released. This test shows false-positives because it merely determines whether an animal has been exposed to the disease, not actual infection. Moreover, the fact that the government started using these tests without first engaging in a supplemental environmental assessment is in direct violation of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
"By using the FPA tests without first conducting an environmental assessment, the agencies involved in bison slaughter are in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act," said Dan Brister of BFC. "The FPA test is more sensitive in detecting exposure, and so its use results in more buffalo going to slaughter, the impact of these tests was never considered in the Interagency Bison Management Plan."
The percentage of Yellowstone buffalo that actually carry any brucellosis bacteria is only from 2 to 20 percent. There has never been a documented case of wild buffalo transmitting brucellosis to domestic cattle.
Dr. Paul Nicoletti, DVM and emeritus professor at the University of Florida, and a leading expert on brucellosis stated, "At present, the agencies either slaughter all captured bison or blood test captured bison sending all seropositive and pregnant bison to slaughter. This methodology, since the blood tests only determine exposure, results in a large number of non-infected bison being killed."
"A domestic cow has a better chance of winning the Montana lottery than contracting brucellosis from wild buffalo," said Stephany Seay of the Buffalo Field Campaign.
"The agencies," continued Nicoletti, "though in possession of sufficient data to prepare a comprehensive risk assessment, have refused to do so preventing the development of more rational management strategies."
Quarantining Wild Buffalo
The DOL's capture operations are also serving efforts to domesticate wild buffalo calves. Captured bison calves no more than ten months old are being sent to a joint state and federal quarantine facility near Gardiner in an effort to determine if quarantining wild buffalo is "feasible." The orphaned bison calves, after being hazed, captured, torn from their mothers and family groups, are trucked to a former elk-ranch, where they remain fenced in, and will undergo rigorous testing for years to come. More than half will be slaughtered. Those that survive will not have any contact with elder-buffalo, nor be able to live out their lives as a wild, migratory species.
"While the state touts quarantine as an alternative to slaughter, they offer this domestication process as an ultimatum to Native Americans who want to return buffalo to tribal lands. Quarantine is merely an attempt to domesticate and imprison the Yellowstone herd," said Dan Brister of the Buffalo Field Campaign. "They tried to breed the culture out of the Native Americans, and now they want to breed the wildness out of the buffalo. Once the wildness is gone, it's gone forever."
Buffalo Field Campaign is the only group working in the field, everyday, to stop the slaughter of the wild Yellowstone buffalo. Volunteers defend the buffalo on their native habitat and advocate for their protection.