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article imageYellowstone seeks to kill at least 900 buffalo this winter

By Megan Hamilton     Sep 19, 2014 in Environment
Yellowstone National Park has plans in the works to reduce its' buffalo population by up to 900 animals, one-fifth of the park's herd, by killing off those that stray outside the park this winter.
This would be the largest cull in the past seven years, the park's wildlife chief said on Tuesday.
The plan was revealed merely one day after an emergency legal petition was filed by animal rights activists, RT reports. Filed by the Buffalo Field Campaign and Friends of Animals, the petition calls for the Obama administration to put a stop to the practice of killing bison.
The culling has resulted in thousands of buffalo being shipped off to American Indian tribes for slaughter in the past decade, and wayward bison have been captured by round-ups and hunting, according to Reuters.
Removing the bison will help meet population goals determined by wildlife ecology and social, cultural and economic factors, David Hallac, chief of the park's science and research branch told Reuters.
"It will not get us close to the goal of 3,000, but it will stabilize the population and bring it down somewhat," he said.
The park's current bison population stands at 4,900, and the cull will drop their numbers to 4,000. The cull is part of a long-standing agreement between federal and state wildlife officials and agricultural agencies.
Buffalo are a popular tourist attraction in the park, which stretches across parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Some buffalo migrate each winter, and ranchers have voiced fears regarding the bacterial disease brucellosis. Around half of Yellowstone's buffalo have been exposed to the disease, thought to have been brought there by cattle that once grazed there, per Reuters.
Brucellosis can cause miscarriages in cows, but it has been completely eradicated in Montana livestock, and as such, this allows ranchers to sell and ship cattle across state lines without tests, quarantines and vaccinations, Reuters reports.
There has never been a documented case of a wild bison transmitting the disease to cattle, reports The Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), which filed the petition with the National Parks Service and the US Forest Service on Sept.15
The Yellowstone bison herd is the only remaining herd of free-ranging buffalo in the US, per RT. Officials want to keep the population small, due to the fear that wandering animals will spread brucellosis
At one time, herds of 20 to 30 million bison dominated much of the North American landscape, ranging from the Appalachians to the Rockies, and from the Gulf Coast to Alaska, Defenders of Wildlife reports. Habitat loss and hunting reduced the population of these magnificent creatures to just 1,091 by 1889.
There are approximately 500,000 bison across the US today, but the majority aren't pure wild bison and have been cross-bred with cattle in the past. Many are also semi-domesticated because they have been raised as livestock for generations on some ranches. Less than 30,000 wild bison are in conservation herds and only 5,000 are unfenced and free of diseases.
In the petition, the Buffalo Field Campaign and Friends of Animals urge the agencies to conduct a population study which, they say, would "correct" the deficiencies in the current bison management plan. The BFC said in the petition that the bison are being killed merely for "crossing an arbitrary line."
"Slaughtering wild bison is the livestock industry's way of eliminating competition and maintaining control of grazing lands surrounding Yellowstone National Park and across the west," Daniel Brister, executive director of the BFC, said in a statement, per rt.com. "Montana's livestock industry continues to use brucellosis to frighten and mislead the public into supporting its discrimination against bison."
To add further fat to the fire, the US Interior Department plans to reintroduce genetically pure herds of wild bison to much of their former range, rt.com reports here. In a proposal the department said that the government would move herds of bison to external sites where the animals would be quarantined for several years in an effort to prevent the disease from spreading further.
Once the buffalo populations are ridden of the disease, new herds of healthy bison could be re-established in parts of the West.
As expected, ranchers are not excited about this idea.
"We have legitimate concerns about containment and damage to private property and we need to address the impact on ranchers that graze on federal lands," Jay Bodner, director of natural resources for the Montana Stockgrowers Association said, per rt.com.
"The purpose of a quarantine program would be to remove bison from the Yellowstone population and make brucellosis-free bison available to augment or establish new tribal and public populations of bison," the Park Service said in a statement. "The program would assist in the conservation of the species, support the culture and nutrition of Native Americans, and reduce the number of Yellowstone bison that are shipped to processing facilities."
There are no facilities that can properly quarantine the animals and keep them in fenced areas where they can be tested frequently over the next several years to make sure that they are free of brucellosis, the Park Service says. This means that the government has to routinely send infected bison to outside facilities to be slaughtered, per RT.
A final proposal regarding this is about one year away, Reuters reports here.
Facilities to quarantine the bison could be installed in the park. Or they could be built just outside the park's borders, or even on lands owned by Native American tribes.
Establishing herds of bison that have the prized genetics of the Yellowstone herd across the West would mark a conservation milestone, Hallac said.
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