Yellowstone Bison

Yellowstone Bison Slaughter Debated in Court

The coalition of environmental groups, American Indian tribes and sporting groups says the bison can be managed in the wild and that a slaughter is an unnecessarily drastic step; they also argue the bison pose no danger to cattle, as there’s never been a documented case where brucellosis has been transmitted from bison to cattle. In response, lawyers from the Interior Department argued the bison could do damage to property outside the Park as well as transmit brucellosis to other disease-free bison. (Interestingly, some Montana landowners who could be affected by the bison have come down on the side of environmental groups, arguing issues relating to property damage are overstated.) Basically, the battle is between environmental groups and the Montana cattle industry, with the federal government acting as a proxy for the politically powerful group.

The case is being heard by U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell.

At issue: 382 bison at the Stephens Creek facility on the northern edge of Yellowstone, corralled there after they attempted to leave the Park for lower areas and better feeding. The plan is to test the bison for brucellosis and then put down the ones testing positive, but there’s also a chance the rest could be put down as well, partly to make room for other bison. There are currently 3,700 bison under Park management, and if more bison head north — a move that’s expected — slaughters could bring that number dangerously close to 3,000, a number that National Park Service officials say is necessary for maintaining a healthy population.

Brucellosis is a disease causing spontaneous abortions in cattle, bison and elk; the goal for the Montana cattle industry is that their herds be certified as brucellosis-free. There’s never been a documented case of brucellosis transmitted from bison to cattle; the more likely transmitter is the elk population.

RELATED STORIES: 300 Bison Hazed Back into Yellowstone — But Their Fate is Uncertain

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