Here at BFC, we're celebrating Mother's Day and the end of Montana's bi-annual legislative session, which is when Montana's ranchers and farmers -- I mean legislators -- convene to decide what kinds of laws they can pass that would serve to protect their cherished way of death -- I mean life.
I fondly remember Western Watersheds Project's founder, Jon Marvel, correcting cowboy ranchers whenever they talked about protecting their way of life. "You mean way of death, don't you?" Jon would say. And when they'd give him a quizzical look, he'd continue "You know, where you kill anything that moves if you can't make a buck off?"
Coyotes, prairie dogs, beavers, wolves, bears, bison...
Long time BFC volunteer, staffer, and lobbyist Josh Osher, now the National Policy Director for WWP, sums up this year's legislative hate-session for the Daily Inter Lake. Most notable for Yellowstone's wild bison, Josh notes:
The Legislature has already passed SJ 14, an anti-wildlife resolution to prohibit bison reintroduction on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, which would provide myriad benefits for the lands, other native wildlife and people.
Which if you think about it, is kind of a positive development. Montana has effectively told the U.S. Congress that their opposition to wild bison has nothing to do with brucellosis - a point we've been trying to make ever since APHIS - the Animal and Plant Health Information Service - loosened the once-draconian rules and regulations governing brucellosis detection in cows. No longer are ranchers forced to kill their entire herd just because one cow contracts the bacteria from (ahem) an elk, and no longer does the state's entire "brucellosis free" status depend on what happens in the Yellowstone ecosystem, where brucellosis is now endemic. And, of course, no longer are humans at risk of undulant fever, which was eradicated with the pasteurization of milk.
But what if ranchers could actually immunize their cows against brucellosis transmission with a vaccine that was as effective as, say, the COVID-19 vaccines were? Oh wait -- turns out they can! As the editors at the magazine Outside Bozeman recently reported:
While politicians and ranchers are busy bickering, Robert Lindstrom, former Research Coordinator for the Park, is advocating another solution: an mRNA-based brucellosis vaccine... Lindstrom says that this kind of vaccine, similar to mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, would be far more effective than the “Cold War era” shots currently in use. And, based on preliminary testing, the new vaccine appears to have potential. Researchers at Montana State University found that the vaccine elicited a strong cellular immune response in bison... most of the research-and-development work has already been done. Decades of it, in fact. Lindstrom was part of a team that isolated a key PCR enzyme from hot springs in the Park back in the ’70s, revolutionizing the field of biochemistry and forming the foundation for developing mRNA vaccines (including those for Covid-19).
BFC lives next door to Bob, and we are incredibly grateful for his leadership in working with us on getting a Buffalo Wildlife Bridge built across Hwy 191 near the Madison River. But good friends can disagree, and as we keep telling Bob, brucellosis is a livestock issue, not a wildlife issue! The livestock industry has a pecuniary interest in developing an mRNA-based brucellosis vaccine for their cows. It would be over 90% effective, and they'd only have to administer it once (since brucellosis, unlike COVID, does not mutate).
SO WHY DOESN'T MONTANA'S LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY WANT TO IMMUNIZE THEIR COWS AGAINST BRUCELLOSIS?
The answer is quite obvious to any thinking person. Because then they wouldn't have any reason to keep wild bison off of our public wildlands! Because then bison would need to be treated just like elk and antelope!!
And why, you might wonder, are ranchers so dependent on public forage for their private livestock? Well, long-time Montana conservationist and biologist Mike Bader covers that question in his own recent guest opinion in CounterPunch:
The Administration’s climate change policies are undermined by the fact it has taken no significant moves to reduce grazing on federal public lands, even when it is dewatering the Colorado River system and others. Despite its impacts on water quality, quantity, fish and riparian habitats, the federal government still charges less than 5% the market rate for grazing leases, losing $120 million each year while worsening the climate crisis.
The Department of Interior’s Bison Management Policy in Yellowstone National Park is a national disgrace devoid of science. Bison can easily be relocated to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and the American Prairie Reserve which together comprise an area approximate in size to Yellowstone. There are other areas of public land in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where bison could reside. The current policy directly undermines the Habitat Connectivity Policy. What’s more contrary to connectivity than opening up on herds and killing thousands when they cross an invisible line?
You can read Josh's legislative report, as well as the Outside Bozeman article by Vickie Sielaff, "In the Crosshairs" and grizzly bear advocate Mike Bader's rant at the following links:
Livestock industry’s war on wildlife at Montana Legislature, Josh Osher, Daily Inter Lake, 05/11/23
In the Crosshairs, Vickie Sielaff, Outside Bozeman, Spring 2023
Biden Land Management: More Clarity, Less Contradiction, Mike Bader, CounterPunch, 04/27/23