A Yellowstone bison capture, which began on Monday, has become a point of heated controversy. Yellowstone National Park officials said the capture program, which started at Stephens Creek, is necessary to manage the park’s bison population. However, opponents are concerned as the animals are being transported for slaughter.
According to the National Park Service, Yellowstone’s bison population was estimated to be 4,900 in July 2015.
Although the bison are free to roam, they generally stay within the confines of the massive national park. Unfortunately, as there are no physical borders, the animals occasionally migrate outside of the park and onto state land.
In 1995, the National Park Service was named in a lawsuit initiated by the state of Montana. The New York Times reports, “Montana stockmen feared that bison could infect local cattle populations with the disease brucellosis, which can cause cows to abort their calves.”
— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) February 15, 2016
In an effort to compromise, the Montana Department of Livestock and Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks, the National Park Service, the USDA-Forest Service, and the USDA-Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service worked together to develop the Interagency Bison Management Plan — which was adopted in 2000.
According to IBMP.info, the plan was designed to maintain Yellowstone’s bison population while managing those that migrate across the border into the State of Montana.
In January 2016, the IBMP partners introduced a plan to “cull 600-900” bison, in an effort “to offset the population increase expected this year.” Although the plan will allow bison to be hunted outside Yellowstone National Park, bison inside the park will be captured and transported elsewhere for slaughter.
The cull was agreed upon to manage the park’s bison population and reduce the number of bison migrating outside the park. In addition to concerns about brucellosis, the IBMP partners agreed the massive animals can threaten human safety and cause property damage.
“An alternative to Yellowstone bison slaughter” great read via @billingsgazette https://t.co/oUx1wyDlmx
— DefendersNews (@DefendersNews) February 16, 2016
Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk acknowledged the fact that “many people are uncomfortable with the practice of culling bison.” However, he said, “the park would gladly reduce the frequency and magnitude of these operations if migrating bison had access to more habitat outside the park or there was a way to transfer live bison elsewhere.”
Unfortunately, the presence of brucellosis prevents the National Park Service from relocating the bison to another location at this time.
Yellowstone’s bison capture program began on February 15 and will end on March 31. According to the National Park Service, the capture program will be carried out “without regard for age, sex, or disease status.”
Following their capture, the animals will be transported to local Native American tribes for slaughter. According to the NPS, the tribes will process the hides and meat for distribution to their members.
Post Register reports opponents of the plan argue that the animals “should be allowed to wander throughout their historical territory.” They also argue that there is no conclusive evidence that cows can catch brucellosis from bison.
Yellowstone’s bison are unique for several reasons. In addition to being the largest population on public land, Yellowstone bison “exhibit wild behavior like their ancient ancestors, congregating during the breeding season to compete for mates, as well as migration and exploration that result in the use of new habitat areas.”
Like any wild animal cull, the Yellowstone bison capture will likely remain a point of heated controversy. Although activists have challenged the IBMP partners to develop a more humane plan, the National Park Service insists the program is necessary to manage the park’s bison population.
The NPS regrets that there are few options at this time. However, they believe the cull will ultimately benefit Yellowstone’s bison population.
The Yellowstone bison capture began on Monday and is expected to reduce the current population by up to 900 animals. The NPS expects the population to be restored to the pre-cull numbers before January 2017.
[Image via Lee Prince/Shutterstock]