Mike Mease is the co-founder of Buffalo Field Campaign, an organization dedicated to supporting the proper treatment and life for the last genetically-pure, wild and free-roaming bison herd in the Yellowstone area to prosper. Each year, due to an agreement with the state of Montana and the National Park Service, hundreds of buffalo, or bison, are rounded up each year for slaughter to keep the population down. The livestock industry and ranchers are at the root of this issue because free roaming bison on the public lands where cattle graze would create competition for grass and supposedly create other issues such as a disease transmission which has never been proven.
Listen in as we discuss this nearly 20 year long battle to stop the annual slaughter of bison and what we can do to help change the tide in federal funding and allow these animals to roam freely once again.
THE National Park Service is set to begin its annual roundup of wild bison in Yellowstone National Park today. A portion will be slaughtered to reduce the number of animals that migrate beyond the park’s borders.
This culling is done largely outside of public view. Journalists have been barred in the past from watching the roundup, though it takes place on public land. The reason, according to the park service, was “for the safety of the public and staff” and also for the bison’s welfare.
This year, in response to litigation, the park service will allow a glimpse of what goes on. But only a glimpse. Access for journalists will be severely limited.
Let’s be honest here. This isn’t about “safety and welfare.” The real reason the park service doesn’t want journalists to view the roundup in its entirety is that the brutality of the cull would be revealed.
The buffalo is perhaps the iconic American mammal. More than any other animal, it is emblematic of the American frontier.
It also symbolizes the savagery with which we have treated the natural world. Tens of millions were slaughtered in a few brief decades during the 1800s — for their hides and fur and, not least, to subjugate restive Plains Indians by eliminating their food supply.
By 1900, out of a population once estimated at as many as 60 million animals, as few as 700 bison remained in private herds, and only 23 at Yellowstone.
Under the protection of the park service for almost a century, the bison have multiplied to an estimated 4,600 animals in Yellowstone.
So why would the park service, whose mission includes preserving “native wildlife species and the processes that sustain them,” opt to help kill one of its most historically and ecologically important wildlife populations?
I’ve covered the controversies over bison management in Yellowstone for almost a decade. The explanation, I’ve concluded, has nothing to do with ecology and everything to do with politics.
In 1995, the state of Montana sued the park service to control bison that roam outside of Yellowstone’s boundary. Montana stockmen feared that bison could infect local cattle populations with the disease brucellosis, which can cause cows to abort their calves. For years, the Montana Department of Livestock had killed bison that left the park.
In 2000, a court- mediated settlement resulted in the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which remains in effect today. It basically requires the park service to do the bidding of Montana stockmen. The park service, in cooperation with the state livestock department, captures bison inside the park and ships them to slaughterhouses. This effort has cost an estimated $50 million since it began 15 years ago. Ninety-five percent of that funding has come from the federal government.
Animal epidemiologists have long noted that the risk to cows of brucellosis infection from wild bison is remote. Not a single instance of transmission has ever been documented.