The recently named national animal of the US is being sent to slaughter over a political dispute in Yellowstone National Park. It was recently found that 44 bison, which are part of one of the last remaining wild herds in the country, are being captured in Yellowstone National Park‘s Stephens Creek bison trap and are being sent to slaughter. These bison were born wild and have spent their lives growing up in the Yellowstone National Park, in the state of Wyoming, and are considered a national treasure. However, in the upcoming months, hundreds of bison will be caught and slaughtered in an annual cull.

In 1902, bison populations were at serious risk in the Yellowstone National Park, with only about two dozen left, which was largely due to an excess of hunting and poaching. Following these drastic declining numbers, intervention began as workers within Yellowstone worked hard to bring the species back from incredibly low numbers, which turned out to be a huge success.

However, following this, ranchers who were raising livestock in Montana decided that they no longer wanted the buffalo near their cattle, as they feared an outbreak of brucellosis, which is a disease that causes cattle to have miscarriages. The ranchers decided that they could not risk an outbreak of the disease within their herd, as it would seriously affect th.eir income. Despite this, it is believed that bison originally caught the disease from cow ranchers who had allowed their cattle to graze in the national park in 1917, and individuals at the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) claim that the disease has never spread from wild buffalo to domestic cattle, and all female cows in the region are required to be vaccinated against the disease.

In 1995, the state sued the National Park Service (NPS) and a settlement was reached which created the Interagency Bison Management Plan. The aim of this plan is to maintain bison population numbers within the park below 3,000.

When population numbers exceed 3,000, the additional bison are sent to slaughter by native tribes or are shot by hunters. This means that the park is now slaughtering the very animals that it previously worked so hard for over a century to protect.

Marty Zaluski, a state vet for the Montana Department of Livestock, told The Dodo, “It’s really complex and if there were a simple solution, we would have fixed it already”. Zaluski claims that the bison population increases by around 13% each year, meaning that populations do need to be managed in order to prevent hundreds of bison being sent to slaughter. The largest cull that has taken place so far was in the winter of 2007 when 1,600 bison were killed.

Zaluski continued his comments by saying that he thinks that fertility control should be in place to keep the numbers down instead of slaughtering them, which he believes makes more sense as the species are not at risk of extinction anymore. He said, “To be quite honest, I am frustrated and mystified about why fertility control is a tool that isn’t being used. You can reduce population and reduce the number of animals going to slaughter”. There are currently believed to be around 5,500 bison in Yellowstone National Park, which means that 2,500 are currently at risk of being killed.

Conservationist Stephany Seay from the Buffalo Field Campaign believes that the interventions in the bison populations are fuelled by ranchers with political influence, and bison populations need to remain in order to actually heal the damage on the land made by cattle.He said in a statement,

“Montana’s livestock lobby continues to play deadly political games with this keystone species which is not in the least guilty of the crimes cattlemen blame them with. In truth, invasive cattle have left death, pollution and destruction in their wake across the lands of the west, and only wild, migratory buffalo can heal these injuries.”

Seay also commented on the sad notion of culling considering that bison were recently named as the national animal by the US Congress due to the fact that they “embody such monumental significance in this country, as a symbol of the wild, untamed land, as the true shapers and stewards of native grasslands and prairie communities”. Although research is currently being carried out to find a suitable area to relocate the bison to in order to decrease the numbers in the national park, this may not even be possible as it is currently against the state and federal laws to move any wild bison to other land reserves that may have been exposed to brucellosis. Due to this, the NPS are proposing a quarantine program for the bison. They said,

“From quarantine, animals that repeatedly test negative for brucellosis could be sent alive to other public, private or tribal lands. Quarantine would reduce the need for capture/slaughter operations, and it would promote an even more robust population of Yellowstone bison across the country”.

However, the state of Montana and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have disagreed with this proposal as they have disputed the location for the bison to be moved to. Therefore, plans for this year’s bison cull are still in place. The NPS have urged citizens to discuss the culls with their local representatives and the members of the Interagency Bison Management Plan, in order to come up with new ideas to save these innocent animals who urgently need help.

Seay added,

“In one direction lies the trap, in the other the gun, and these attacks last for months on end without respite”.
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