Yellowstone Bison Slaughter Will Continue

(01/30/1997) - A proposal by three federal agencies to address the slaughter of bison as they approach the Yellowstone Park boundary grossly fails to protect the Yellowstone bison herd from being decimated this winter, five leading conservation groups said today.

The plan fails to allow for adequate public lands to be made available to migrating bison to ensure the herd's survival, said representatives of the Defenders of Wildlife, National Parks and Conservation Association, Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

The proposal by the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service calls for continuing to allow some bison to migrate onto small parcels of Forest Service land within Montana without the state losing its brucellosis-free status. But, large tracts of Forest Service land both west and north of Yellowstone that would be appropriate winter range remain off-limits to bison.

The single positive aspect of the plan is a commitment by the National Park Service to continue to shut down its bison trapping facility along the park boundary near Gardiner, Mont. Instead of trapping bison and shipping them to slaughter, park rangers will try to haze bison that approach the boundary back into the Park.

"This fails to stop the elevator from plummeting in terms of numbers of bison killed," said Mike Clark, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. "Until the agencies recognize the emergency situation we are in and allow for bison to use more public lands north and west of the park, Yellowstone's bison herd remains in jeopardy."

"Under this plan, buffalo will still be killed while bureaucratic discussions with Montana's governor drag on," said Paul C. Pritchard, president of the National Parks and Conservation Association. "There is more that can and must be done. It is time to stop talking and take action. It is time to end the slaughter not just slow it down. We cannot continue to sacrifice the American buffalo because of an unsubstantiated risk to a handful of subsidized cattle."

"Today's announcement fails to address the root cause of this year's bison killing, which is the Department of Agriculture's narrow, uncompromising and legally bankrupt threats that it would yank brucellosis-free status if any of Yellowstone's bison are allowed in the state. The Agriculture department must adopt a more flexible and less lethal position if this issue is ever going to resolved," said Jim Angell, of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.

"The real solution is to find winter range for Yellowstone's bison. Montana and the federal government should work together to identify and provide bison winter habitat that would be permanently dedicated and managed for that purpose," said Charles M. Clusen, senior policy analyst of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"Today's announcement provides little relief for Yellowstone's bison. Hazing the bison off private land only benefits the bison if suitable alternative range is provided. If it is not, the bison will simply starve to death instead of being shot," said Rodger Schlickeisen of Defenders of Wildlife. "The federal government needs to unilaterally announce that bison cannot be killed on any Gallatin National Forest land. That would leave the only bison killing being done on private land by Montana employees. And that should shame Governor Racicot into stopping the slaughter of America's last free-roaming bison herd."

Heavy snowpack and a thick layer of ice have blanketed much of the forage in Yellowstone park, prompting a mass exodus of elk and bison from the park early this winter. Already more than 740 bison - more than 20 percent of the total herd - have been trapped and shipped to slaughter or shot as they approached or crossed the park boundary. Many more bison in Yellowstone are near the edge of the park and biologists are predicting a high mortality rate for bison that stay in the interior of the park.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270