For Immediate Release:
April 3, 2008
Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign, 406-646-0070, bfc-media"at"wildrockies.org
Yellowstone Bison: Interagency Plan and Agencies' Management Need Improvement to Better Address Bison-Cattle Brucellosis Controversy
Website: GAO-08-291 March 7, 2008
Highlights Page (PDF) Full Report (PDF, 47 pages)
Montana - A U.S. Government Accountability Office report made public April 2nd sharply criticized a slew of federal and state agencies behind the Interagency Bison Management Plan, the governing document responsible for the slaughter of over 3,300 wild American buffalo in and around Yellowstone National Park.
In an April 2 press release, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) and Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) criticized the bison plan as "plagued by deficiencies" and "severely limited" in its ability to protect Yellowstone's wild bison population.
"The entire process must be reorganized and opened up for oversight by Congress and the public," Rep. Hinchey said. Rep. Rahall was also quoted as saying: "It has been clear for some time now that the current Interagency Bison Management Plan is not working."
As the GAO report notes on who is footing the bill, the bison plan is nearly all paid for by American taxpayers with appropriations from the U.S. Congress reaching a high of $3,304,817 in 2006 (FY).
"Americans are looking to our representatives and supporters in Congress to find ways to secure a future for wild bison in Yellowstone," said Darrell Geist, habitat coordinator for Buffalo Field Campaign. "Millions of dollars of American taxpayer money now used to slaughter wild bison can buy the grass that cattle now graze on."
Buffalo Field Campaign strongly opposes the Interagency Bison Management Plan and maintains that wild bison should be allowed to naturally and fully recover themselves throughout their historic native range, especially on public lands. More than 1,300 wild American bison have been eliminated from the remaining wild population this winter and spring under actions carried out through the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP), as well as state and treaty hunts.
"The plan is failing to accomplish a critical objective, which is to maintain a wild, free-ranging population of bison," said Dan Brister, project director for Buffalo Field Campaign. "Free-ranging bison need to migrate, yet more than 1,300 wild bison have been killed this year alone under the this plan for doing just that."
Among the key findings, the GAO report found that "... the agencies lack accountability among themselves and to the public, and it is difficult for the public to obtain information without attending the meetings or contacting each individual agency."
For years, wild bison advocates across the country and around the world have called on decision-makers involved with the plan to put an end to the slaughter and protect wild bison and their habitat, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
"The agencies are ignoring the public on this issue," said Stephany Seay, media coordinator with Buffalo Field Campaign. "People have written thousands of emails and letters, made thousands of phone calls, submitted thousands of comments, attended scores of public meetings, and have taken direct action to draw attention to this issue and end the slaughter, but the agencies act as if we were not even there. That is not democracy; the people and Congress must act to restore accountability," she said.
The GAO report further states: "The interagency bison management plan does not have clearly defined, measurable objectives, and the partner agencies share no common view of the objectives. Consequently, the agencies have no sound basis for making decisions or measuring the success of their efforts.... Additionally, the agencies have not designed a monitoring program to systematically collect data from their management actions, nor have they set forth a coordinated research agenda to resolve remaining critical uncertainties related to bison and brucellosis-related issues."
"There is every indication that the agencies are proceeding blindly with slaughtering bison without acquiring knowledge about what they are doing," said Mike Mease, co-founder of Buffalo Field Campaign. "It is unthinkable that they should be allowed to continue on this dangerous path, with Americans who are opposed to the slaughter footing the bill."
The GAO Report also states: "In the absence of a systematic monitoring program, the agencies have lost opportunities to collect data that could help resolve important uncertainties. The plan states that all captured bison are to be tested for exposure to brucellosis, but fewer than half of those captured since 2001 have been tested. For example, in early winter 2006, the agencies lost an opportunity to collect scientific data on about 900 bison. Park Service officials captured these bison as they attempted to leave through the park's northern boundary. The bison were consigned to slaughter without being tested at the capture facility because the Park Service determined that they would not be used for research and could not be held in the capture pens until the spring for release back into the park."
The GAO report finds that the agencies are failing to follow their promise to test bison destined for slaughter - and resolve an uncertainty in their testing which, to date, does not determine infection or the health of bison: "According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a published study by researchers at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (now known as the Idaho National Laboratory) has shown that it is possible to detect Brucella abortus DNA in blood samples rather than antibodies to Brucella abortus and thereby determine actual infection… Current brucellosis tests involve determining whether a blood sample taken from an animal contains antibodies to the brucellosis bacterium. The presence of these antibodies indicates that the animal has been exposed to the bacterium in quantities sufficient to trigger antibody production but does not necessarily mean the animal is infected with, or ill from, the disease itself."
Eight years into a fifteen year plan, the GAO report found that the agencies are stuck in step one, with no timeline on how to get out of this step the most deadly and intrusive one for migrating bison that has led to the slaughter of over 3,300 bison since 2000: "The agencies have no estimate regarding how long it will take to meet the conditions for starting step two, nor have they revised their estimated dates for reaching step three, which was expected by winter 2005-2006."
The GAO Report goes on to say: "The plan specifically states that it does not identify how the agencies will measure success or failure. In fact, several agency officials acknowledged that they had not identified metrics or parameters for measuring how well they are meeting the plan's stated goals."
"With no way to measure success or failure, the agencies proceed blindly with the bison plan," said Geist. "Without any foresight or regard for consequence to the genetic viability or wild integrity of America's last wild bison population, the government carries out this draconian mismanagement scheme at the expense of a national treasure."
Bison, or buffalo, are a migratory species native to vast expanses of North America and are ecologically extinct everywhere in the United States outside of Yellowstone National Park.
Buffalo Field Campaign is the only group working in the field, every day, to stop the slaughter of the wild American buffalo. Volunteers defend the buffalo and their habitat and advocate for their lasting protection.