Yellowstone bison agreementfinalized
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DECEMBER 21, 2000

After nearly a decade of negotiations, the state of Montana and the federal government on Wednesday finalized an agreement that seeks to manage the last wild, free-ranging herd of bison in the United States.

The herd, which resides in the Yellowstone National Park, has been the subject of intense public scrutiny ever since it became known that Montana officials were killing bison that wandered out of park boundaries. According to the National Park Service, over 3,000 bison have been killed since 1984, primarily to prevent the transmission of brucellosis from bison to cattle.

But even though the agreement seeks to minimize what are called "lethal controls" by the Park Service, tribal leaders and environmentalists have criticized the plan, saying it places Montana cattle interests above protection of a herd whose population was decimated to less than 30 a century ago.

"What the government should be doing is managing cows," said Faye Brown of Honor the Earth, an environmental action group which helped raise awareness of the issue. "Manage the introduced species, not the indigenous one."

The agreement allows a limited number of bison to wander outside the park during winter, when cattle are not present. In the spring, when cattle return to graze on public lands, the bison will be hazed back into the park. Bison that fail to respond to hazing face removal and slaughter.

The agreement also places an upper limit on the spring bison population at 3,000. Higher numbers tend to increase chances of bison wandering outside the park, said Marsha Karle of the National Park Service.

The current bison population is about 2,900, raising fears that the animals will again be killed come spring. Brown believes the only reason no bison have been killed since the winter of 1999 has been public outcry over the issue.

Karle, however, says a number of bison will die during the winter, reducing the chances the upper limit will be reached soon.

"We're not going to shoot them just because their population is above 3,000," she added.

Although the government says the agreement isn't intended to eradicate the cattle-killing disease, the United States Department of Agriculture will pay for the vaccination of cattle which have not been vaccinated within a year. But as pointed out by environmentalists, the Park Service agreed that there has never been a recorded case of brucellosis transmission in the wild.

"Our position is that we really don't think its going to happen," said Karle. "What we have done is come to a compromise. The agreement is the best that we can do to preserve the bison and yet still protect Montana's brucellosis class-free status."

The USDA could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Get the Final Environmental Impact Statement:
Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Interagency Bison Management Plan for the State of Montana and the Yellowstone National Park (NPS August 2000)

Get the Final Agreement:
Record of Decision: Bison Management Plan [PDF 799k] (NPS December 2000)

Related Stories:
Agreement on bison near (Enviro 12/08)
State releases bison plan (Enviro 11/17)
Vaccine sought for bison (Enviro 10/19)
Bison face threat from wolves (Enviro 10/16)
Comments on bison slaughter extended (Enviro 10/3)

Relevant Links:
Honor the Earth -