The letter, penned by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and signed by 13 other Democratic members of Congress, acknowledges that new Yellowstone National Park Director Dan Wenk wants to see a more humane management of bison, and that the current actions of the Interagency Bison Management Plan — allowing grazing bison to head north of the Park into the Gardiner Basin, instead of herding them to pens on the edge of the Park — fit within this new ethos. Still, with reports that there is still consideration of a plan to slaughter 100 or so bison that have tested positive to brucellosis exposure, the congressmen want to see the IBMP scrapped, with the NPS taking a more forceful role in the bison management. What’s weird about the letter — and you can read it here — is that the members of Congress acknowledge that the IBMP is doing the right thing and then calls for it to be disbanded:
Considering the many land-use changes, advancements in scientific understanding of bison and brucellosis, and recent changes to federal brucellosis policy, it has become abundantly clear that the IBMP must be replaced.
We ask NPS to work diligently toward a new policy that places the conservation of bison and the end of invasive livestock practices, including the unnecessary hazing, capture and slaughter of bison, as top priorities. We especially urge NPS to work closely with the current IBMP’s Native American partners in the development and implementation of a new bison policy.
Now, it’s hard to say how effective a letter like this is. On the one hand, no NPS director likes to see criticism from Congress. On the other hand, no member of Congress representing any part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem signed the letter (reps from Arizona, California and Oregon come the closest), and there’s always a bad reaction from locals when outside interests interfere in local matters, even something as important as management of Yellowstone National Park. Many a Congressperson has been elected from Wyoming, Montana and Idaho who promised to stop federal interfering in what they posit as local issues.
And, quite bluntly, the Congressional members signing this letter are asking Jarvis to do what Henke and the other IBMP members (U.S. Forest Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Montana Department of Livestock and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the InterTribal Buffalo Council, the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes and the Nez Perce Tribe) have already being done: avoid the slaughter of Yellowstone bison. The new grazing policy has already led to a slew of criticism among some Park County residents — the folks most impacted by the new policy — and may give rise to a lawsuit or two. Brucellosis is still a hot-button issue in Montana, and Yellowstone bison remain a target for stockmen, even though there’s never been a documented case of a bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle. (Elk, which also carry the disease, are far more likely to transmit it to cattle.) Federal rules regarding brucellosis have been loosened by the Obama Administration in recent months, and the amount of cattle grazing in the Gardiner Basin is significantly lower than in years past:
Many of the primary circumstances and policies that the current IBMP is based upon are now very different than they were when the plan was drafted. Specifically, far fewer cattle graze on either public or private land in the areas where bison migrate when they leave the Park. In the northern boundary area during the winter and spring, only 50 head of cattle are present in the area adjacent to the Park. The two operators of these herds have both publicly expressed their opinion that they can live with migrating bison and are not concerned about brucellosis transmission from bison. They also agree that the current IBMP is wasteful and ineffective. In the western boundary area, no cattle are ever present until early summer. On the Horse Butte Peninsula, land ownership changes and the permanent closure of grazing permits on federal land have rendered the area completely free of cattle year round.
All in all, this was a good time to expand the winter grazing area by some 75,000 acres.
In the end, it’s kinda hard to take the letter as more than political posturing. If the IBMP is indeed working under a policy the Congressional members agree with, then it makes no sense to disband it:
It is clear to us from recent statements by the new Park Superintendent, Dan Wenk, that NPS is ready to stake out a new direction for bison management, working with the other agencies and partners toward the goal of ending the horrible spectacle of capturing and slaughtering these treasured bison. We would like to encourage you and your creative staff to strive for a new policy that is firmly grounded in the founding principles of the National Park Service. We recognize that such an effort will be very challenging but we are certain that NPS and its partners have the technical and physical capabilities needed for this task.
RELATED STORIES: Yellowstone Bison Killer: It Was Self-Defense; Two Roaming Yellowstone Bison Killed in Gardiner; Legal Challenges to Yellowstone Bison Accord Possible; Final IBMP Approval At Hand for New Yellowstone Bison-Management Plan; Montana, Feds Discussing New Bison Grazing Outside Yellowstone