Groups seek intervention in bison slaughter
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A coalition of tribes and conservation groups on Wednesday called for the Bush administration to end the "unnecessary slaughter" of bison in Yellowstone National Park.

Nearly 250 herd members were killed last week pursuant to an agreement adopted during the Clinton administration that seeks to balance the bison population with the state of Montana's cattle industry. But the groups said the National Park Service was ignoring key provisions of the management plan by slaughtering the animals without first testing for a deadly cattle disease.

"Tribes would give anything for the buffalo the Park Service is killing," said Fred DuBray, executive director of the Inter-Tribal Bison Cooperative, which represents 51 tribes.

In a letter to Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, who oversees national parks, the coalition said it was possible to protect the descendants of the last free-roming herd of bison in the country. The groups asked for the removal of cattle along the the north end of Yellowstone, where the recent killings have occurred.

"NPS has the discretion and opportunity to investigate and implement options that would protect Yellowstone's bison," the letter stated.

Not since the winter of 1998-1999 have so many animals died at the hands of federal and Montana state officials. Public outrage put a temporary halt to the killings until the current management plan was finalized. Former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt signed it in December 2000, a month before he left office.

The agreement seeks to keep bison away from cattle that graze on land near Yellowstone. Montana's cattle industry fears the bison may carry brucellosis, which can cause calves to abort. No transmission has ever occurred in the wild, officials ready admit.

The heightened slaughter has its roots in a number of factors. One is that the bison has reached its target population of 3,000 and herd members tend to leave park boundaries in search of food.

Bison that wander out of the park are to be hazed back in. If unsuccessful, that animals are to be captured and tested for brucellosis.

But there are exceptions that allow federal and state officials to ignore these two provisions. The exceptions are tied to the spring cattle grazing season.

Since the 2000 agreement was finalized, more than 400 bison have been killed, based on numbers from the Montana Department of Livestock. In total, over 3,000 have been killed since 1984, according to the National Park Service.

Get the Letter:
Groups to Norton (March 12, 2003)

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

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