National Park Service Fails Wildlife, Caters to Livestock Interests

For Immediate Release:
January 25, 2006

Stephany Seay (406) 646-0070

Gardiner, Montana - As of this morning, the National Park Service (NPS) at Yellowstone National Park has slaughtered more than 500 (509) of America's last wild bison, more than 1/10 of the existing herd. A total of 672 of America's last wild buffalo have been captured since January 12. Bulls, calves and non-pregnant females are among those sent to slaughter, none of which pose any risk of transmitting the livestock disease brucellosis, the supposed reason for the Park's heavy-handed management. US Homeland Security agents have been escorting the country's native wild bison to slaughter facilities in Montana and Idaho, some as far away as 500 miles.

The NPS justifies Yellowstone's participation in the harassment and slaughter of the country's last wild bison under the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP). The Plan was set up to protect and maintain a wild population of Yellowstone bison and protect Montana's livestock industry from the perceived threat of brucellosis transmission from wild buffalo to domestic cattle.

"The Plan doesn't say the Park Service must kill bison, it simply states that it may," said Buffalo Field Campaign's (BFC) policy and legal coordinator Josh Osher. "The Park Service has the option not to kill. It's an adaptive Plan that is designed to work for bison, not against them."

BFC strongly opposes the Interagency Bison Management Plan and advocates for more sensible risk management, including more habitat for wild bison and fencing and vaccination of domestic cattle in the Montana.

The NPS has sent 86 wild bison calves to Montana's Corwin Springs bison quarantine facility, joining fourteen calves that were sent there last spring. According to the Park Service the quarantine facility has reached full capacity. Henceforth, all captured calves will not be tested for brucellosis antibodies and will be sent directly to slaughter.   

"We have entered the most significant and bloodiest buffalo slaughter since the winter of 1996-1997," said BFC's Dan Brister. "The Park Service has no idea the impact it could have on the overall health and stability of America's last wild bison herd."

One wild bison calf died in the Stephens Creek facility last week after its horns were broken off as it was processed through the trap. Two female bison have also died in the facility due to gore wounds. Bison in the wild rarely, if ever, inflict fatal wounds upon each other; captivity-related stress and fright severely modify wild bison behavior. Seventy-three bison remain in the Stephens Creek Capture Facility, located within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. The NPS expects to send the remaining bison to slaughter by Friday, emptying the trap for the weekend.

"This is only the beginning. The Park Service on Yellowstone's northern boundary is poised for more capture, while along the Park's western boundary, Department of Livestock (DOL) agents prepare the Duck Creek and Horse Butte capture facility sites for a long winter and spring of bison harassment, slaughter, capture and quarantine," said Stephany Seay of the wild bison advocacy group Buffalo Field Campaign.

State and federal agencies tout the Plan as evidence that no brucellosis transmissions between wild bison and cattle have occurred. However, brucellosis was first detected in the Yellowstone ecosystem in 1917. Nearly 100 years prior to the inception of the IBMP there has never been a documented case of brucellosis transmission from wild buffalo to cattle, even where they have coexisted for decades (Grand Teton National Park). Brucellosis is a European livestock disease.

In the past ten years, state and federal agencies have killed nearly 3,000 (2,833) wild buffalo - well over half of the existing herd - and thousands continue to be denied access to critical habitat. There are no cattle near the Park's western boundary, and less than 200 on the northern boundary.

Some of the bison captured by the Park Service migrated onto or near the Royal Teton Ranch, owned by the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT). The ranch is located within North America's largest wildlife migration corridor directly adjacent to Yellowstone's northern boundary. In 1998 U.S. taxpayers spent $13 million on conservation easements to allow wildlife, including wild bison, to access these lands. The government never finalized the deal.

"Hundreds of bison are being captured and slaughtered at Yellowstone's northern boundary exclusively because of the CUT's refusal to honor the intention of the land exchange to provide needed winter range habitat for migrating bison," stated BFC's Josh Osher.

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 harassment, capture, slaughter and quarantine when they do. Bison are North America's largest land mammal.

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.