Call to Immediately Halt Killing of Yellowstone Buffalo

Park Service Slaughtering Buffalo by Choice -- Not Mandate

(03/12/2003) - WASHINGTON – Secretary of Interior Gale Norton received a letter today on behalf of conservation organizations and Native American tribes calling for an immediate halt on the killing of Yellowstone Park buffalo by the National Park Service, a branch of the Interior Department.  The letter was copied to Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis.  Regional and national conservation organizations signed to the letter represent over 8 million members, and the Native American Intertribal Bison Cooperative speaks for fifty-one tribes.

Yellowstone National Park is home to the only wild free roaming buffalo herd in the United States.  Genetically unique, these few thousand animals are a living link to the millions of buffalo that once thundered in great herds across our western plains.

Last week, 231 of these iconic buffalo were rounded up by Park Service personnel, confined in a holding pen, and shipped to slaughter.  Most were within the boundary of Yellowstone National Park when they were captured.  The Park Service has stated publicly that it’s compelled to take this action as part of a management plan.

The March 11 letter asserts that the Park Service has greater management discretion and authority relative to Yellowstone buffalo than it’s currently exercising.  It notes that 13 million taxpayer dollars have been spent toward securing range immediately outside the Park for buffalo.   The letter calls for the Park Service to utilize its clear discretion to uphold the highest possible standards of protection for Yellowstone Park buffalo.

“We’ve taken a close look at the management plan under which the Park Service is operating in Yellowstone,” Charles Clusen of the Natural Resource Defense Council reported.  “Public assertions that it has no choice but to capture and kill buffalo just don’t wash.”

According to Tony Jewett of the National Parks Conservation Association, “The Park Service is killing buffalo by choice and not because it has to.”  He characterized this decision as “a stunning departure for an agency the public counts on to protect America’s heritage, not eliminate it.”   

Bette Stallman of The Humane Society of the United States called upon the Park Service “to demonstrate ethically, fiscally, and environmentally responsible management consistent with its mission.”  She added, “The Department of Interior’s Park Service is striking out on all three counts.”  

Fred DuBray, Executive Director of the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, called the Park Service slaughter “a return to our worst memories of the 19th century.”  The Cooperative is based in South Dakota and represents 51 tribes.  To many Native Americans, Yellowstone buffalo are not only a national treasure but a potential breeding source for future reservation herds as well.  “Tribes would give anything for the buffalo the Park Service is killing,” DuBray lamented.  By current policy, Indians may receive heads and hides of slaughtered buffalo, but not the honored living animal with which they hope to repopulate their lands and revitalize traditional culture. 

Quoting the Congressional act that established the Park Service, Jim Coefield of the Montana-based Ecology Center noted the agency’s mission is “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife within.”  “That’s certainly not what’s happening in America’s first national park,” he observed.  “Secretary Norton and Superintendent Lewis have a lot of explaining to do.” 

Safeguarding Montana livestock from a bacterium called brucellosis is the supposed rationale behind slaughtering Yellowstone buffalo.  Brucellosis, common in Yellowstone wildlife, has never been transmitted in the wild from buffalo to cows.  Nonetheless, for years the Montana Department of Livestock has singled out Yellowstone buffalo for hazing and killing when winter weather draws wildlife out of the Park to lower elevation range nearby. 

“Such draconian actions are completely unnecessary and have cost taxpayers millions,” said Hope Sieck of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.  “The Park Service should pursue common-sense solutions that protect Yellowstone’s buffalo and the integrity of our first national park.”

Opponents to the slaughter point out that only a few hundred beef cattle graze anywhere near Yellowstone, mainly in the summer when buffalo have returned to the Park.  All agree that simply moving those cows to another location would solve any perceived problems and save money all around. 

“We are heartened to see that last week’s slaughter by the Park has caught the attention of Congress, specifically Representative Rahall, ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Resources,” said Defenders of Wildlife’s Caroline Kennedy.  “We’ll help him investigate the Park’s recent actions and how taxpayer dollars are being used to slaughter Yellowstone’s cherished buffalo herd.”

The March 11 letter details management stipulations, and discrepancies, relative to the recent Park Service actions.

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Contact(s):

Caroline Kennedy, (202) 682-9400 x107