Living – Life – Large, Sept. 7, 2023


The authoritarians favoring complete control have once again stuck their spoon into the bowl of Yellowstone with a new recipe to make it better.

Yellowstone National Park is soliciting feedback on a proposal outlining three potential strategies for managing bison in and around the park. This long-awaited document will guide how the park manages the animals in coordination with state and tribal wildlife officials.

Once adopted, the plan will set the parks policy as it works with other agencies through a workgroup created by the Interagency Bison Management Plan. That plan was adopted in 2000 in response to concerns that bison could infect Yellowstone-area cattle herds with brucellosis.

The 149-page environmental impact statement outlines three options.

Keeping the current position in which park managers would aim for a population of 3,500 to 5,000 animals and continue allowing existing hunting, hazing, quarantine and slaughter operations when bison stray outside the park.

Another option that would prioritize treaty hunting by tribal members to manage herd size and continue with the quarantine-and-transfer-to-tribes program. Under this option, the park would manage for a larger population, between 3,500 and 6,000 animals after calving.

The other option would be that bison would be managed more like other wildlife. Under this preference, higher numbers of bison would be tolerated and slaughter operations would cease. The park would, however, continue strengthening tribal herds in other places with animals from the park.

The draft proposal also highlights recent research finding that wildlife-to-livestock transmissions of brucellosis are more likely attributed to elk than bison. Elk have transmitted brucellosis to cattle more because they frequently mingle with domestic cattle.  

The new plan is arriving after the blood has dried on the most devastating year for bison in recent history. Tribal hunters killed more than 1,100 bison this spring. This is a record number that is attributed to the increased participation in treaty-authorized hunting and the harsh winter that drove animals out of the park.

In March, the U.S. Interior Department pledged to invest $25 million in bison restoration efforts, citing their ecological, historical and tribal importance. Additionally, theres a petition before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Yellowstone bison under the Endangered Species Act. It is based largely on concerns about the diversity of the herds gene pool.

An enduring symbol of freedom and the West, bison have long been an emblem representing the country’s frontier roots, gracing the U.S. Department of the Interior seal, the National Park Service Arrowhead logo, and at one time, the back of the USA’s five-cent coin, the nickel. Bison have long been an emblem representing our frontier roots.

The National Bison Legacy Act was signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama in May 2016, making bison the USA’s national animal.

Long before the first settlers arrived, Native Americans hunted bison. Fundamental to tribal culture and survival, they used every part of the bison for food, clothing, shelter and tools.

Today, the National Wildlife Federation is leading the effort to return wild bison to tribal lands. Through partnerships with tribal leaders, they are working to restore the cultural connection with bison for Native American tribes and creating space for free-roaming herds to graze in their historic habitats.

Are we slightly repeating history by once again killing off Americas last truly wild bison and ending the roam of the wild buffalo that still know how to roam? That wildness is what makes them iconic. Scientists and conservationists warn that the Yellowstone bison are approaching the moment that may make it nearly impossible to preserve their untamed nature.

Most of the bison that wander out of Yellowstone National Park are fair game. Each winter, Yellowstones bison move from the high country in groups of a few dozen, seeking better feeding grounds. The evidence of wild bison migration is etched into our continent, where the movement of vast herds shaped the land.

In the late 19th century, after tanneries developed a process for making hides into leather, bison slaughter peaked. Buffalo hunters killed an estimated 2 million in 1870. For the next three years, hide hunters slaughtered roughly 5,000 buffalo every day. By mid-1883, almost every single bison in the U.S. was gone, but a few did find refuge in and around Yellowstone.

Once the buffalo were nearly annihilated to nonexistence from the plains, the cattle industry took advantage of all that grazing land for the production of beef. They replaced the bison with domestic cattle.

The West has been a cattlemans paradise, but in reality, that land has always belonged to the bison. Within their habitat, a range that once stretched across at least 40 states, the bison are a keystone species along with nearly everything else in the ecosystem, but man.

Millions of people journey to Yellowstone every year. Part of this journey is to see the bison that freely roam there. The restoration of free roaming bison is flaunted as one of the greatest conservation success stories of the last century.

Now, the way evolution seems to be advancing, the next generation of visitors may find a herd thats been irrevocably altered. The people who have dedicated their lives to the buffalo, studying them, conserving them, and even having to ship some to slaughter, hopefully we wont let it get that far.

Because we have Yellowstone, we still have the possibility to preserve this animals wild nature. To really save them, to save anything, we have to do the evolving and learn to live without conflict with the bison and the organizations that are trying to manipulate them.

There are ways to do this and there is enough land. Lets let bison be bison. Let them be safe in and around the national park as one of the last living symbols of Americas Wild West. - dbA

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