USDA-APHIS Intends to Sterilize Ecologically Extinct Wildlife

For Immediate Release:
May 31, 2011

Stephany Seay, media coordinator, Buffalo Field Campaign 406-646-0070
Darrell Geist, habitat coordinator, Buffalo Field Campaign 406-646-0070

Corwin Springs, Montana - Without public notice or input, Yellowstone National Park has consigned fifty-three of America’s last wild bison, captured during 2011, to the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) for a population control experiment. This move contradicts numerous public announcements from Yellowstone officials that all wild bison captured during 2011 would be released. USDA APHIS plans to use wild bison to experiment with GonaCon™, a chemical immunocontraceptive vaccine, under the highly controversial Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP).

“The public and the buffalo have been absolutely betrayed by this backroom deal,” said Stephany Seay, a spokeswoman with Buffalo Field Campaign, a wild bison advocacy group. “Yellowstone National Park cannot legally surrender America’s wildlife for harmful experiments on a whim, without any public notice or involvement.”

USDA APHIS received its permit from Yellowstone National Park on May 17, 2011. IBMP agencies were holding working meetings with the public in attendance on May 17-18 yet there was no public announcement until May 26 that a decision had been made.

“The IBMP agencies were directed by Congress to be transparent and yet here they go with a backroom deal that will have significant harmful impacts on the ecological health and evolutionary potential for the last wild population of American buffalo,” Seay said.

Population control was rejected as an alternative in the IBMP Record of Decision and Final Environmental Impact Statement signed in 2000 because environmental impacts would be “too significant to be within the reasonable range of alternatives.”

"The agencies clearly rejected population control because of significant harmful impacts to wild buffalo," said Darrell Geist, habitat coordinator with Buffalo Field Campaign. "The wild American bison is ecologically extinct throughout their native range inhabiting less than 1% of their historic range. By all measures wild buffalo are endangered and not to be treated like 'pests' and chemically neutered."

Buffalo Field Campaign filed Freedom of Information Act requests with USDA APHIS and Yellowstone National Park to divulge records shedding light on their decision to experiment with population control on America’s last wild buffalo.

The Yellowstone bison population includes America's last continuously wild herds, and is the last population that still follows its migratory instincts. As unique native herbivores that evolved across the North American continent, scientists believe bison can help restore the native grasslands, sagebrush steppes, and prairie ecosystems that are considered to be some of the most endangered habitats in the world.

Buffalo Field Campaign is a non-profit public interest organization founded in 1997 to stop the slaughter of Yellowstone's wild bison, protect the natural habitat of wild free-roaming bison and other native wildlife, and to work with people of all Nations to honor the sacredness of the wild bison. Buffalo Field Campaign has its headquarters in West Yellowstone, Montana, and is supported by volunteers and participants around the world who value America's native wildlife and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

Additonal Background Information and Resources:

In the Record of Decision and the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Bison Management Plan for the State of Montana and Yellowstone National Park (2000) the agencies considered and rejected population control as an alternative and outlined several “environmental impacts too significant to be within the reasonable range of alternatives”:

  • “… immunocontraception would affect the immune system of bison and potentially make them more susceptible to disease.”
  • “Significant behavioral changes can be expected for all major contraceptive agents currently under investigation (Garrott 1995).”
  • “Contraceptive agents could disrupt family and social bonds and extend or alter breeding and birthing seasons (Garrott 1995).”
  • “Sterilization, if done on a large scale, might have genetic influences on the population by eliminating pre-selected animals from the gene pool.”

“The final environmental impact statement (pp. 56-63) sets out several alternatives that the agencies rejected from in-depth analysis. The alternatives include fencing the perimeters of the park to physically prevent bison from leaving Yellowstone National Park, providing feed to bison to keep them within Yellowstone National Park, relocating bison to other public lands, using birth control to control the size of the bison population, sterilizing bison to prevent the transmission of brucellosis, depopulating the entire herd and replacing it with brucellosis-free bison, using native predators to control the bison population, controlling or eradicating brucellosis in elk, requiring cattle producers to change their operations, allowing natural forces to control the size and movements of the bison herd, and restoring bison to the Great Plains. We agree with the judgment of the EIS team to reject a full analysis of these alternatives. Most of them would not have met the goals of the planning process. Others would have had environmental impacts too significant to be within the reasonable range of alternatives.” Record of Decision, pages 20-21.

GonaCon™ was developed by USDA APHIS to “control populations of over-abundant wildlife species” and has been “tested in many pest species including white-tailed deer, domestic and feral pigs, bison, wild horses, cats, dogs and California ground squirrels.” GonaCon™ a Versatile GnRH Contraceptive for a Large Variety of Pest Animal Problems, 2004, online.

APHIS web site on GonaCon™ and “overabundant wildlife populations”

The immunocontraceptive agent, GonaCon™, is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a chemical sterilant/hormone. Download Pesticide Fact Sheet GonaCon September, 2005 (PDF, 121kb)

The wild bison of the Yellowstone region are the last population to retain their identity as a wildlife species. Wild bison are ecologically extinct throughout their native North American range and efforts are underway to gain Endangered Species Act protection for this last continuously wild population.