House Hears Plea that Congress is Wasting Money on Costly Plan that Threatens Yellowstone Bison Herd

For Immediate Release:
March 20, 2007

Washington, D.C.: Darrell Geist, BFC, 406-531-9284
West Yellowstone, MT: Dan Brister, BFC, 406-646-0070

Washington, D.C. - Advocates for wild bison testified today before the House Natural Resources Committee that the government is wasting taxpayer money on a costly plan that threatens America's last wild bison herd in Yellowstone National Park. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) chaired the oversight hearing before the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

Rep. Grijalva set the tone for the hearing by stating, "The slaughter of bison needs to stop." His comment was echoed by Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (D-WV) who said, "Slaughter is not management, it is the approach of a bygone era."

Josh Osher of Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) testified before the committee on the importance of Congressional action to protect Yellowstone bison, "In 1872, Congress played an instrumental role in the creation of Yellowstone National Park and the protection of the American bison from hunters and poachers," he said. "In 2007, Congress can play an equally important role in the protection of the Yellowstone bison from state and federal agencies operating under an inherently flawed management plan."

The multi-million dollar 15-year Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) is currently mired in the first step of a three-step plan with no tolerance for wild bison outside Yellowstone National Park. In the third step, some tolerance is made for wild bison migrating to winter range beyond Yellowstone National Park borders.

According to the plan's timeline, Yellowstone National Park, Gallatin National Forest, and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service should have shown some tolerance for wild bison during the winter of 2004-05.

In the winter of 2005-06, 849 wild bison were captured and sent to slaughter from Yellowstone National Park's Stephens Creek bison capture facility. Eight bison died while being held in captivity or as a result of injuries received while held in captivity. Eighty-seven bison calves were removed from their family groups within the herd to the Brogan quarantine facility at Corwin Springs. An additional 59 wild bison were killed by the Montana Department of Livestock including two bison that fell through the ice on Hebgen Lake during a bison hazing operation. Yellowstone National Park shot one wild bison.

Since 1985, the state of Montana and Yellowstone National Park have killed more than 5,000 Yellowstone bison.

Buffalo Field Campaign also testified that $13,000,000 in Congressional funding to protect native wildlife habitat in Yellowstone has failed to benefit wild bison.

In 1999, Congress funded the $13,000,000 acquisition of the 6,770 acre Royal Teton Ranch land deal to "protect critical wildlife habitat, particularly ungulate winter ranges and migration corridors, and improve the flexibility for management of those species" including wild bison.

Located along the Yellowstone River, the Royal Teton Ranch is situated in a migration corridor for wild bison to access vital winter range in the Gardiner Basin, just outside Yellowstone National Park.

The seven-year-old agreement promised "a safe haven for the bison" but has failed to materialize. The parties involved in the land deal - Gallatin National Forest and Church Universal and Triumphant - have failed to reach an agreement on a bison management plan.

"It's scandalous that so much taxpayer money has been spent to protect critical wildlife habitat, yet not one wild bison has benefited," says Darrell Geist, a member of Buffalo Field Campaign who also attended the hearing. "Beyond the Royal Teton Ranch, there is a lot more habitat that wild bison need for winter range. It's going to take a clear directive from Congress to our National Forests and Parks that bison belong on public lands."

The shortcomings of the Interagency Bison Management Plan and the Royal Teton Ranch land deal led Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Rep. Rahall, and former Rep. Charles Bass (R-NH) to request an investigation - now underway - by the General Accounting Office.

Also testifying at today's hearing were Brian Schweitzer, Montana's Governor; Mike Soukup, an Associate Director of the National Park Service, Suzanne Lewis, Yellowstone Park Superintendent; Robin Nazzaro, the Government Accountability Office's Director of Natural Resources and Environment; Tim Stevens of the National Parks Conservation Association; and Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

American Bison once spanned the North American continent, numbering between 30 and 50 million. The Yellowstone bison are genetically and behaviorally unique and are America's only continuously wild herd, numbering fewer than 4,000 animals, .01 percent of the bison's former population. Wild bison are ecologically extinct everywhere outside Yellowstone National Park.

Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) is the only group working in the field, every day, to stop the slaughter of the wild Yellowstone buffalo. Volunteers defend the buffalo and their native habitat and advocate for their lasting protection.