The National Park Service has approved the implementation of a Yellowstone bison quarantine program at Stephens Creek.
Under the program, bison will be held at Stephens Creek, tested and treated for brucellosis. Quarantined bison that meet the time and disease requirements will be cleared for shipment outside of the park.
The program will not impact bison management under the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which calls for the hunting and slaughter of Yellowstone bison. Implementing a quarantine program would, however, reduce the need for hunting and slaughter.
According to a Yellowstone press release, the program received approval from the NPS Intermountain Regional Director May 14, 2018. The Director approved a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the environmental assessment (EA) conducted for the program.
According to the press release, the program is intended to “augment or establish new conservation and cultural herds of plains bison, enhance cultural and nutritional opportunities for American Indians, and reduce shipments of Yellowstone bison to slaughter facilities.”
The announcement comes as Yellowstone prepares to ship bison to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in eastern Montana, where the Fort Peck Tribes have long sought to establish a herd.
“Quarantine is a positive step forward for bison conservation,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk in the press release. “The NPS will continue to work closely with tribes, the State of Montana, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and other stakeholders to implement this program.”
Yellowstone National Park announced its intention to quarantine bison in the park in summer 2017. The park solicited public comment for its proposal in 2014 and 2016. Alongside public comment, the NPS also consulted with state, federal and tribal partners. In December 2017, we reported the park was close to having a quarantine facility.
The announcement of a Yellowstone bison quarantine program comes after a tumultuous winter for Yellowstone National Park. Five people were arrested in March protesting bison management in and around Stephens Creek. Further, fences were cut twice at Stephens Creek, releasing bison being held there. It also comes after over 1,100 bison were killed through hunting and slaughter, well above the IBMP’s stated goal of 600 to 900 bison.
Following this year’s bison management season, the park has proposed changing the IBMP’s bison population quota. The quota, enacted in 2000 alongside the IBMP, calls for 3,000 bison in Yellowstone National Park. The population has never sunk that low. Instead, bison numbers have seesawed dramatically. This summer, park biologists estimate the population will be around 4,200.
4,200 incidentally, is the new “magic number” park biologists hope IBMP partners agree on going ahead.