The lawsuit, filed today in U.S. District Court, argues that the Park Service and Forest Service is negligent in protecting Yellowstone bison and overstates the danger to local livestock posed by brucellosis carried by bison and elk in the region.
Indeed, the decision to slaughter bison in the name of protecting livestock is a political solution to a scientific problem. Brocellosis is a disease carried by bison and elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem; it can cause cows to spontaneously abort fetuses. It affects cattle the same way.
To keep the disease from spreading, cattle in states must be certified as brucellosis free. Cattle ranchers in Montana, naturally, want to keep that designation (some lost it in 2009). Their solution: Prevent any interaction between bison and cattle. Hence the government policy of slaughtering bison that may come into contact with cattle outside the Park.
But science doesn’t quite jibe with the cattleman’s view of the world: research indicates it’s very, very unlikely bison can transit brucellosis to cattle. The more likely suspect: elk. But it’s harder to slaughter elk: there’s so danged many of them in the region (some 10,000), and they’re less manageable than bison.
More than 3,300 bison have been slaughtered in the last 10 years. Last year 1,800 bison were slaughtered, but a report from the Government Accountability Office heavily criticized the practice and called for its curtailment. As a result, the Park Service and the Forest Service agreed to slaughter fewer and take advantage of buffer areas outside the Park for bison to graze away from cattle.
The lawsuit is likely to be heard by Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula.