Bison Slaughter in Yellowstone…Again

Bison, Greater Yellowstone. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

State, federal and tribal representatives voted again to slaughter 600-900 Yellowstone Park bison this winter. The agencies and tribes use the less offensive sounding euphemism “cull”. But let’s be honest, what happens is nothing more than butchery done to appease the livestock industry.

It is shameful that these agencies and tribes legitimize the annual butchery of our national animal based on the phony excuse that bison “might” transmit brucellosis to livestock.

Brucellosis is a disease that can cause abortions in cattle. Yet thus far the only documented transmission of brucellosis to cattle has been from elk.

The removal of bison from the Yellowstone ecosystem has many ecological ramifications. Reducing the bison number means there are fewer weak or winter-kill animals for predators and scavengers be they wolves, grizzlies, fox, ravens, and coyotes.

Hunting with modern weapons, spotting scopes and other paraphernalia of the “hunt” distorts evolution. Native predators and harsh winter remove the less fit animals, but modern hunters make no distinctions and frequently kill the most genetically healthy animals.

Because the Yellowstone bison have been continuously wild, they a product of the evolutionary forces of harsh winters, predators, and disease.  They are genetically unique.

But how do we treat these unique animals? Do we honor their evolutionary heritage? Do we treat them with respect and as a national treasure?

Instead of acknowledging the unique attributes of the Yellowstone bison, we slaughter them like so many rats.

The present “hunt” is ethically questionable. The hunters gather on the border of the park and slay any bison unfortunate enough to step beyond the invisible park boundary. There is nothing honorable about what occurs.

It is particularly disturbing that the tribes are participating in this annual carnage. In a sense, they are doing to bison what the American manifest destiny did to them—using bullets as a fence, they are confining bison to a wildlife “reservation.”

There is no reason why bison should not migrate and occupy other public lands surrounding Yellowstone Park.

Rather than continuously remove bison from Yellowstone by hunting, this rare genetic stock should be transplanted to other suitable habitat like the Missouri Breaks National Monument/Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, the Green River/ Red Desert of Wyoming, North Park of Colorado, the INL/Craters of the Moon/Snake River Plain in Idaho, among other suitable sites.

These Yellowstone bison are part of our national patrimony.  It is time we treat them as such.

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy