Decision to Slaughter without Testing Violates Bison Management Plan

For Immediate Release:
January 11, 2006

Stephany Seay or Dan Brister: (406) 646-0070

Gardiner, Montana - Yellowstone National Park Rangers captured at least 178 bison this morning in the Stephens Creek bison trap on Yellowstone's northern boundary. According to the Park Service (NPS), the number of buffalo captured may go up to 200 today, the full capacity of the trap. The NPS plans to send all the captured bison to slaughter without testing for brucellosis and without cooperation from Montana.

Most of the bison had been grazing north of Gardiner inside Yellowstone National Park. The Park Service initially captured 105 bison then later in the morning another 73 bison were hazed from the Church Universal and Triumphant's Royal Teton Ranch and captured in the Stephens Creek trap.

In 1999 more than 13 million tax dollars were given to the Church in exchange for land and conservation easements aimed at providing habitat for the Yellowstone bison and other wildlife. The Church's refusal to give up cattle operations on the Ranch has negated any benefits of the land deal and to date the lands remain off-limits to bison.

According to the terms of the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP), all bison captured before the late winter/early spring population count is conducted are supposed to be tested for antibodies to brucellosis or held in the trap and released in the spring. The provisions of the IBMP clearly state, "The agencies will test all captured bison, send seropositives to slaughter, and temporarily hold up to 125 seronegative bison at the Stephens Creek capture facility…If the late-winter/early-spring bison population is above the 3,000 target, specific management actions may be undertaken at the Stephens Creek capture facility or outside the Park in the western boundary area to reduce its size." Sending bison to slaughter without testing violates the Plan because the late-winter, early-spring count has yet to be conducted.

The Park Service says that filling the Stephens Creek trap now would severely limit their bison management options for later in the winter, which is why they intend to send all the captured buffalo to slaughter, without testing or holding the bison until spring, as the Park Service has done in the past.

"Sending these bison to slaughter without testing before the late-winter/early-spring bison counts are conducted clearly violates the Interagency Bison Management Plan," said Josh Osher of BFC. "These safeguards were put in place so the government's actions would not compound potential natural winter kill. By sending these bison to slaughter without testing in order to free up the capture facility for more of the same, the National Park Service could be responsible for a devastating population crash in America's last wild herd of bison."

The Park's decision to capture today led to a rift with the state of Montana. According to Governor Schweitzer's office, the state will not participate in the capture operation. Governor Schweitzer's spokesperson Mike Volesky said, "Any time we're in the midst of hunting no state agents will be involved in capture, testing, or transport of bison to slaughter." Volesky went on to say, "These are park bison and the park is going to do what the park is going to do with them."

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced yesterday that they will suspend Montana's bison hunt along the Park's western boundary beginning today, 1/2 hour after sunset. The Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) plans to resume hazing operations as soon as Thursday.

"In this power play between the National Park Service and the State of Montana, the only loser will be the bison," said Dan Brister, Project Director for the Buffalo Field Campaign. "The Park Service is entrusted with protecting America's national treasures. Instead the agency is flexing political muscle by killing the bison it is supposed to safeguard." 

Al Nash, Chief of Public Relations for Yellowstone National Park told representatives of Buffalo Field Campaign that the Park Service has conducted nine hazing operations, in which they force wild migrating buffalo off of their critical winter range habitat in order to protect Montana's brucellosis-free status. 

"Yellowstone used to be a wildlife sanctuary. Under the watch of Superintendent Suzanne Lewis it has been transformed into a buffalo slaughter facility set up to do the bidding of Montana's livestock industry," said Mike Mease, Campaign Coordinator and cofounder of the Buffalo Field Campaign.

State and Federal agencies participating in the Interagency Bison Management Plan justify Montana's lack of bison tolerance on the unfounded fear that bison may transmit brucellosis, a European livestock disease, to cattle. Bulls, yearlings and non-pregnant females pose no risk of transmitting the bacteria. There has never been a documented case of wild bison transmitting brucellosis to livestock.

"The Park Service is working with its neighbors to protect Montana's brucellosis-free status; the only option available is to capture and send the bison to slaughter," said Yellowstone National Park spokesperson Al Nash.

In the past ten years Montana and the U.S. Government have killed 2,479 wild Yellowstone bison, more than half of the existing herd.

"The Park Service claims that they are 'managing for a wild population of bison,' but when an agency impedes natural migration, advocates for a state's livestock industry over protecting wildlife, and captures and slaughters buffalo, that can hardly be considered doing anything but the bidding of Montana's livestock industry," said BFC's Stephany Seay.

The bison that inhabit the Yellowstone region are the last wild, genetically pure, unfenced bison left in the country. They are the only bison to have continuously occupied their native range and they are the last bison to follow their natural instinct to migrate. Like other wild ungulates, bison move to lower elevations outside the park in response to the region's harsh winters. Yet, unlike other wild ungulates, wild bison are not allowed to leave Yellowstone National Park and are subject to hazing, capture, and slaughter when they do.

Buffalo Field Campaign is the only group working in the field, everyday, to stop the slaughter of the wild Yellowstone buffalo. Volunteers defend the buffalo on their native habitat and advocate for their protection.