MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON Montana officials clashed with members of the House Natural Resources Committee Tuesday as the panel’s chairman said he is adamantly opposed to the “murder” of Yellowstone National Park bison. West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall, the Democrat who took charge of the committee in January, has long opposed slaughtering bison that wander outside the park and has in the past tried to stop it. He hinted at a House subcommittee hearing on the issue that he may try again. “Slaughter is not management,” Rahall said. “It is an approach from a bygone era and has no place in time of rapid and scientific and economic progress. We are capable of more ingenuity and more compassion if we are willing to try.” Rahall noted that he offered an amendment in 2003 that would have stopped the slaughter of all Yellowstone bison. The amendment was defeated, 220-199. “That vote was a harbinger of what will come, that the status quo is no longer sufficient.” Rahall said. Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican, and Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer both testified at the hearing and advocated continued slaughter to prevent the transfer of brucellosis from diseased bison to cattle grazing outside the park. While pushing different approaches, both said they are very concerned that bison could transfer the disease to cattle and damage the state’s cattle industry. “We in Montana do not intend to lose our brucellosis-free status,” said Schweitzer. Last winter, 1,003 bison heading to lesssnowy, lower elevations outside the park were captured and slaughtered following unsuccessful attempts to force them back into Yellowstone. That number dropped to just two bison killed this winter, as milder weather and other factors allowed most to remain in the park, according to park representatives. The park’s 3,600 bison make up the world’s largest surviving herd of the animal, which is also the symbol for the National Park Service. Rehberg advocated the current management plan, which was designed by the state of Montana, the National Park Service and the Department of Agriculture. It is designed to reduce the risk of brucellosis and allows the slaughter of bison, along with hunting of some animals outside the park. “This was not something that was just thrown together to slaughter our bison,” Rehberg said. “This is where you have to decide, are we going to let sound science manage our parks, or are we going to let political science manage our parks.’” Schweitzer has proposed either paying ranchers near the park to remove their cattle, creating “buffer zones” around the park where all cattle would be tested for the disease, or eradicating brucellosis altogether through slaughtering infected animals. If Congress is not interested in these approaches, Schweitzer said, “do your job and leave us alone.” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is chairman of the subcommittee that held the hearing. Like Rahall, he believes slaughter is not necessary and said after the hearing that he is interested in Schweitzer’s idea to create buffer zones near the park, where in exchange for 100 percent testing, Montana would not lose its brucellosis-free status should two herds become infected inside that designated area. Legislation on the issue could come in the near future, Grijalva said.