Yellowstone bison

MFU President Responds to Bison Decision

No surprise here: The Montana Farmers Union (MFU) has come out against Governor Steve Bullock regarding his bison decision.

Yesterday, Bullock announced his intention to allow bison to roam year-round in select portions of Montana north and west of the Park. The move runs counter to the decades long practice of hazing bison back across the Yellowstone–Montana boundary, or slaughtering them if they persist in crossing. And while Bullock’s decision wouldn’t sanction bison to roam completely free, it’s still a radical suggestion made toward modifying the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP).

MFU President Alan Merrill issued a statement on the union’s behalf, outlining their current and historic opposition to free-roaming bison in the region. “MFU has long requested continued support of a management plan that will maintain a brucellosis-free state, and support private property and land lessees’ rights,” said Merrill. “… [The] Montana Farmers Union is proud to advocate for Montana farmers, ranchers and consumers on wildlife management issues such as this and many other important policies affecting our # 1 industry.”

Indeed, Merrill’s statement included an official policy outline supported by the MFU regarding bison in and out of Yellowstone National Park:

Bison and bison management throughout the entire state of Montana, especially the Greater Yellowstone Area, remain a concern to Montana livestock producers. Effective bison management is essential to the prevention of the spread of brucellosis and to the protection of private property. Prevention of brucellosis is in the interest of public health and safety…. Free roaming, feral and wild bison should not be allowed within the state of Montana and all bison should be regulated as livestock by the Montana Department of Livestock (2012).

This response is pretty par the course whenever bison management is brought up around Yellowstone National Park. And it’s important to note: brucellosis is devastating, not only from an economic standpoint but also from a public health standpoint. A little over a century ago, people could get infected with the disease (in humans, infection from brucellosis bacteria is labeled Bang’s Disease or Crimean/Maltese/Gibraltar Fever and occurred when people drank unpasteurized milk from brucellosis-infected cattle). It’s all but extirpated now in American cattle; you’d really have to go out of your way to get Bang’s Disease in the U.S. these days.

So these claims are not unfounded, but they’re not founded on much anymore. Indeed, the environmental assessment gauging whether to let bison roam year-round in Montana notes that since the IBMP was enacted in 2000, several important changes occurred in both brucellosis knowledge and land use. Elk, it is believed, are far more likely to transmit brucellosis to cattle than bison. In addition, there are fewer cattle in the places where bison will be allowed to roam.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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