Clinton bison plan exceptions allow slaughter
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THURSDAY, MAY 23, 2002

Montana state officials have begun killing bison that wander out of Yellowstone National Park without testing for a deadly cattle disease at the center of the controversial battle.

The Montana Department of Livestock yesterday announced that it sent 29 bison to slaughter without checking for brucellosis. The state justified the killings because the herd population exceeds its target and the animals were leaving park boundaries in violation of a state-federal management plan which aims to minimize disease transmission.

The agreement, approved in December 2000 by then-Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, typically calls for the slaughter of bison only as a last resort. Montana officials must first try to haze the animals back into the park.

The latest batch of bison refused to cooperate, state officials said. The department spent almost every day of this month trying to push the animals back into the park but gave up on Monday night and rounded up the offenders.

But also contributing to the lethal kills without testing are exceptions the Clinton administration agreed to honor when it finalized the plan. According to a "temporal separation" provision, bison must be back in the park by April 15 or May 15 -- depending on the region -- or face death.

The dates are timed to coincide with the arrival of cattle in the area. The Department of Interior allows grazing on federal lands adjacent to the park, raising fears by local ranchers of transmission of the disease, which can cause fetuses to abort.

Another exception applies to the bison's optimal population, which is pegged at 3,000. The herd has teetered at its target for more than two years, making it more likely for lethal kills.

The Yellowstone bison are descendants of the last wild, free-roaming herd in the country. Driven to near extinction by non-Indian exploitation at the turn of the 19th century, scientists consider the animals genetic marvels.

Area tribes, which once depended on the bison when it flourished in the Plains, also regard the herd as sacred.

The killing of bison caused a public uproar during the Clinton administration, which negotiated with the state of Montana to come up with the joint agreement. Up until the plan was finalized, no bison had been slaughtered since the winter of 1998-1999.

Based on state figures, 199 bison have been slaughtered since December 2000. In total, over 3,000 have killed since 1984, according to the National Park Service.

Related Documents:
Draft Environmental Impact Statement (1998) | Final Environmental Impact Statement (2000) | Record of Decision [pdf] (December 2000)

Relevant Links:
Montana Department of Livestock -
Yellowstone National Park -
Honor the Earth -
The Inter-Tribal Bison Cooperative -

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Greater slaughter of bison feared (4/19)
John Potter: Murdering Bison (12/17)
John Potter: Yellowstone Buffalo, Wolves (3/26)
Yellowstone bison slaughter resumes (3/23)
Yellowstone bison agreement finalized (12/21)