Tensions between stockgrowers and Buffalo Field Campaign heightened after brucellosis found in herd.
MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
The National Park Service and the state of Montana agreed Friday to truck a renegade group bison into Yellowstone National Park if they resist the latest hazing efforts an effort aimed at preventing the slaughter of week-old bison calves. Gov. Brian Schweitzer announced the plan with Suzanne Lewis, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. Schweitzer said it was hammered out with the help of U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. The plan would preclude sending the cows and calves to slaughter an issue that had brought intense scrutiny from bison advocates. “A pardon has been granted,” Schweitzer said. The agreement received mixed reaction from both sides of the debate: ranchers who want the bison off their summer feed ground and worry they will transmit disease to their livestock and those who want free range for the Yellowstone animals. About 300 bison, including 100 calves born this spring, have been roaming on summer cattle grazing lands near West Yellowstone in recent weeks, despite several hazing attempts. On Thursday and Friday, state agents on horses and in a helicopter, pushed them back into the park. About 280 were hazed back in on Thursday, and another 35 were pushed back into the park on Friday. The hazing came after the Montana Livestock Department postponed a plan to them to slaughter. Schweitzer said the park service agreed to bend its rules and allow them to truck the bison deep into the park should they come back out. He called it a “middle ground” agreement. “This is unprecedented that the bison were getting hazed back into the park and not staying there,” the governor said. “The park has never agreed to do this before, but we have not ever been in this situation before.” Schweitzer said early reports, however, showed the latest hazing effort may work. Many of the bison, hazed 7 miles into the park, appeared to be heading deeper into Yellowstone. If the bison come out, however, they will be loaded into trucks and released in a capture facility near Gardiner near the park’s northern border. The bison would be coaxed from there back into a different region of the park. “I think we took a step in the right direction,” Lewis said at a news conference with Schweitzer. Lewis said more discussions are needed on managing the bison. “Clearly, finding places for bison on the landscape outside the park remains a big goal,” she said. The Buffalo Field Campaign, a group that advocates for a free-roaming wild bison herd, said the agencies buckled amid public backlash to plans for an unprecedented slaughter of so many calves. “The cattle industry is out of control. They want to kill little mommas and babies,” said Mike Mease, the group’s co-founder. “I just think they went beyond the line.” Mease said the plan to truck the bison back into the park still does not allow the bison room around the park to roam. “I’m happy they are not going to kill the buffalo, but the lesser of two evils is not a choice. It’s an ultimatum,” Mease said. Ranchers weren’t entirely pleased with the strategy worked out by Schweitzer and federal officials. Errol Rice, executive vice president of the Stockgrowers Association, said they can live with the plan for the short term. He said the state has been too “lackadaisical” in enforcing the interagency bison management agreement that calls for the animals to be back in Yellowstone by mid-May to make sure they don’t commingle with cows being put on summer pastures. “But if this works, then fine,” Rice said of the new strategy. Others have said the slaughter of excess bison that leave the park is a needed tool to manage the size of a growing Yellowstone herd. Tensions are heightened after brucellosis was found in a herd of cattle in the state last month. Another case would cost the state its brucellosis-free status, requiring more testing of cattle for the disease, which causes cows to abort. It could also lead to restrictions on outof- state transport of cattle. Schweitzer said the most important aspect of Friday’s agreement is that it assures that bison will not be commingling with cattle.