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Save Yellowstone’s Bison From Slaughter

The proposal to butcher another 900 to 1,000 of Yellowstone’s genetically unique wild bison is a crime against the world’s global heritage.

It reflects badly on the people of Montana that they tolerate this annual slaughter to go on. It also exhibits poor judgement on the part of hunters, tribal members and others who participate and/or directly or indirectly sanction this crime against nature and our national patrimony.

Yellowstone’s bison herd is genetically unique. It is one of the few bison herds in the country free of cattle genes, and one of the only bison herds that have remained continuously wild. There is genuine aesthetic and ecological value in wildness. But by slaughtering  (or to use the clinically sanitized term, “culling”) Yellowstone’s bison, we are destroying Yellowstone’s wild bison.

Furthermore, the annual removal of bison has real ecological consequences for other wildlife, basically taking food out of the mouths of wolves, grizzlies, coyotes, ravens, magpies and other animals that kill or scavenge bison.

One needs to understand why killing a thousand bison is so harmful. The park’s bison have gone through several genetic bottlenecks. At one time, the population numbered 25 animals. And previous years of slaughter and capture/shipment by the livestock industry and others outside of the park means the park’s bison have gone through repeated genetic reductions. Last year, for instance, 600 bison were killed.

This is made worse by the fact that bison are a tournament species – whereby dominant bulls do the majority of all breeding. This means the “effective” breeding population is much lower than the actual population numbers and as a result, so is the genetic diversity.

The bison are being slaughtered under the pretense of protecting Montana’s livestock industry from brucellosis. This is a sham because there is no documented instance of a wild bison transmitting brucellosis to livestock.

Bison with active bacteria must abort her fetus. Then cattle have to lick the aborted fetus or its fluid during the short time when the bacteria is still alive and before scavengers like coyotes, ravens and magpies find the dead fetus and consume it.

Bison bulls and calves don’t abort fetus, hence are not a threat. Yet bison bulls and calves are regularly killed, demonstrating the fraudulent reasoning behind the bison slaughter.

Plus, one can vaccinate cattle against the disease, and when combined with other strategies like preventing the overlap of bison and cattle use of pastures, the risk can be contained and is negligible.

So why is the livestock industry almost rabid to control and kill Yellowstone bison?

The excuse used by the livestock industry is disease control. That is a charade.

What the livestock industry really fears is the spread of bison on public lands. Bison and cattle consume nearly the same foods. What the livestock industry wants to avoid is a debate over whether public bison or private cattle should get preferential access to public lands forage.The other reason is that the livestock industry wants domination over our public wildlife. And the control they exert over bison is part of a larger goal of controlling other wildlife species, including elk.

Killing Yellowstone’s bison is artificially skewing the bison herd to a younger age, and removing the natural processes of predation, starvation and other factors that normally affect these animals.

The state of Montana is particularly culpable in the continued destruction of the park’s wild bison. The state has outlawed the shipping of live bison outside of a small zone except for transfer to slaughterhouses. This policy makes it impossible to relocate bison to other suitable public lands in Montana, as well as to Indian reservations that want to start bison herds of their own.

Yellowstone’s wild bison must be recognized as a valued wildlife animal in Montana and throughout the West. Their unique genetic heritage is worthy of protection. We have a moral obligation to enhance and expand Yellowstone’s bison to the American West.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

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