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West Yellowstone, Montana
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Petition to List the Yellowtone Bison as Endangered
See Also 5/09/03- Endangered Species Status Sought for Yellowstone Bison-
National Public Radio, All Things Considered Audio Archive (3:58)
Download our ESA Citizens Petition to list the Yellowstone Buffalo as
a distinct population under the Endangered Species Act.
This is a PDF file. You need Acrobat Reader to download


With the explicit endorsement of the U.S. Congress, the vast herds of American bison were systematically slaughtered in the mid to late 1800's in a campaign to subdue Native American tribes dependent on the bison for survival. The cumulative impact of market and sport hunting devastated the bison and reduced their numbers from as many as 60 million to a few hundred wild bison. The bison surviving this government-sponsored massacre owe their existence to the inaccessible habitat deep within the Yellowstone backcountry. These bison, even after Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, remained vulnerable to poachers desperate for the vanishing chance to kill a bison. By the turn of the century, only 23 wild bison survived in Yellowstone National Park.

Today, the descendants of those wild bison find themselves the targets of state and federal management plans that have resulted in the shooting or slaughter of more than 3,500 bison since 1985. The 21st century slaughter is based on an unsubstantiated fear of disease transmission from bison to cattle and intolerance for free-ranging bison by the Montana livestock industry and state and federal livestock agencies. The imposition of an artificial population cap of 3,000 bison also has contributed to bison being shot and slaughtered without ever being tested for brucellosis in the field.

Despite a lack of credible scientific evidence supporting this annual slaughter, including no confirmed case of Brucella abortus transmission from wild bison to cattle and an alleged risk of transmission so small as to be immeasurable, the Montana Department of Livestock, National Park Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the U.S. Forest Service continue to permit and participate in the killing of American bison in and outside Yellowstone National Park. Their stubborn refusal to accept scientific evidence supporting a more rational, natural, and humane bison management strategy will, if the killing is not stopped, cause the endangerment and extinction of the Yellowstone bison.

A coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations will submit a petition to the government asking that Yellowstone bison be protected as a distinct population segment under the Endangered Species Act to mandate a cessation to the killing and to compel the agencies to develop more enlightened and scientifically sound management strategies to protect, rather than prosecute, Yellowstone’s bison. This listing will provide Yellowstone's bison and their habitat with much deserved protection. State and federal agencies will no longer be able to harass, capture, test, shoot, and slaughter America’s last wild bison if the petition is approved.

The petition provides a compelling case for granting Yellowstone bison protection under the Endangered Species Act. It demonstrates that Yellowstone bison represent a distinct population of bison both geographically and reproductively isolated from other bison populations. All other semi-wild public bison herds are either heavily managed, resulting in a specific and narrow genetic makeup, or the bison’s genetic makeup in those herds has been polluted with cattle genes. The petition provides evidence documenting the significance, including the cultural and spiritual importance, of the Yellowstone bison herd to millions of people throughout the United States and the world who have observed or contemplated the magnificence of these animals. At the center of this discussion is the bison’s cultural and spiritual significance to Native Americans.

The herd’s scientific significance, particularly its ecological and genetic importance and uniqueness, is discussed in relation to other bison herds. The petition highlights recent scientific studies providing conclusive evidence that Yellowstone bison, unlike most other bison herds held in the public trust, are genetically pure. The evidence demonstrating the distinctiveness of the Yellowstone herd and the urgency for its protection is irrefutable. The petition identifies and describes threats to habitat and to the bison’s ability to access that habitat. Threats exist both within Yellowstone’s boundaries and on private and pubic lands surrounding the park. Development activities outside the park are reducing the quantity and quality of bison habitat and forage while the bison’s use of the snow-packed road system inside the park has resulted in direct and indirect impacts to the bison and the habitat that sustains them.

Even if Yellowstone bison habitat were not threatened by destruction and modification, existing bison management strategies establish a near zero tolerance policy for wild bison outside of the park by creating an invisible fence surrounding Yellowstone National Park that demarks the line between a bison’s life and death and jeopardizes the population’s very survival. Tragically, on the north side of Yellowstone, bison are subject to capture and slaughter even before they leave the park and the animals are deprived of access to much-needed winter range. The National Park Service sent 231 bison to slaughter from within Yellowstone National Park during the first week of March, 2003.

The petition will comprehensively address brucellosis and will demonstrate, drawing on existing scientific evidence, that the threat of brucellosis transmission from wild bison to cattle is infinitesimally small. The disease itself will be described and evidence will be presented documenting that, even if transmission were theoretically possible, the agencies have killed thousands of bison since 1985 who pose no risk of transmission. Statistics documenting the potential risk of brucellosis transmission between bison and cattle will be presented and will make it abundantly clear that the current bison management scheme is fraudulent and threatens the survival of this critically unique and important bison population. Managing bison population numbers under the guise of disease management, utilizing an artificial population cap, will eventually drive the genetic diversity of Yellowstone’s bison into an extinction vortex, as they become more and more inbred, and they lose their wild characteristics.
The petition exhaustively documents the threat posed by existing state and federal regulations governing the management of Yellowstone bison. For example, Montana’s current bison management plan places Yellowstone bison under the authority of the Montana Department of Livestock, an agency with an obvious bias against free-ranging bison and favoritism toward cattle. Another contradiction documented in the petition is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s existent and recently expanded authority to address disease in wildlife. The petition documents myriad deficiencies in the current Bison Management Plan that threaten the very survival of wild bison in and around Yellowstone. The unavoidable conclusion from this evidence is that existing regulations— federal and state—fail to provide the Yellowstone bison with the necessary protections from current and future threats to their habitat and survival.

Additionally, the petition identifies and evaluates other factors affecting the survival of Yellowstone's bison population. Such factors include a currently proposed Montana state bison hunt, an effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its state agency counterparts to develop a new, more deadly, plan to eradicate brucellosis from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and other threats that, if not stopped, will drive America's most unique and scientifically important bison population to extinction.

If the federal and state agencies responsible for the ongoing destruction of Yellowstone's bison would accept the overwhelming scientific evidence and bother to listen to the public as we demand that bison be protected, this Endangered Species Act listing would not be necessary. The agencies’ disdain for the evidence and disregard for the will of the people has put the bison’s future at risk. Protecting the herd under the Endangered Species Act is necessary to prevent the endangerment and extinction of the magnificent bison.

This listing petition is being compiled and filed by the Buffalo Field Campaign, Cold Mountain Cold Rivers, the Ecology Center Incorporated, and the Fund for Animals.

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