For the second time this year, fences at Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek facility were compromised, releasing bison being kept there.
The first incident occurred January 16, when 52 bison escaped after someone used a bolt cutter to cut through two pens.
The news comes just after the start of bison operations around Yellowstone, which aims to cull bison from the park’s population, per the requirements of the Interagency Bison Management Plan.
According to a Yellowstone press release, the incident occurred between 9 p.m. Wednesday, February 21 and 6 a.m. Thursday, February 22. We previously reported that 96 bison were being kept at Stephens Creek. After the fences were compromised, 73 of those bison left the pens.
According to the release, most of the bison stayed in the immediate area or reentered the pens. This stands in contrast to the January incident, when nearly all the bison left the area. Crews repaired the fence by mid-day Thursday, February 22.
The National Park Service has opened a criminal investigation into the matter. The NPS is also conducting an investigation of the January 16 incident. The park is also looking at how to tighten security around Stephens Creek and aims to “make improvements immediately.”
As part of IBMP operations, bison corralled into Stephens Creek are tested for brucellosis; if they tested positive, they would be shipped to slaughter. This year, the park started a pilot quarantine program to cure captured bison of brucellosis. Once cleared of brucellosis, the bison could be shipped to Native American tribes and conservation orgs hoping to start or augment existing bison herds.
Indeed, the quarantine proposal came after 40 bison promised to the Fort Peck Tribes in eastern Montana were nearly slaughtered last winter to accommodate more bison in Stephens Creek. 24 of those 40 bison were eventually spared from slaughter and were kept at Stephens Creek until they were released in January by the fence cutter.
Bison are also hunted as part of the IBMP, with both tribal hunters and the general public allowed to buy permits. This year, the hunting season was especially slow, prompting concern that more bison would need to be slaughtered to meet the IBMP’s goal of culling 600 to 900 bison this year.
The hunting, slaughter, and quarantine of bison have been criticized by environmental and animal rights groups as being cruel and unnecessary.
In a statement, Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk called both fence incidents, “a setback for bison conservation.”
Wenk added: “Creating a successful quarantine program will allow the transfer of live animals to tribes to develop conservation herds on tribal lands. The saboteurs are only ensuring more bison will be shipped to slaughter.”