Yellowstone National Park is home to hundreds of animal species, including bison, a cherished American icon, of which the park plans to kill up to 900 of, starting January 2016. Government agencies aim to kill or remove the wild bison from in an ongoing effort to reduce the animals’ annual migration into Montana, where ranchers are concerned the bison will negatively affect their cattle populations. Park officials released details of plans for at least 600 to 900 bison to be killed by hunters or captured and sent to slaughter. This would be the largest cull in one winter since 2008 and represents more than 18 percent of the current population of about 4,900 animals.
Yellowstone Bison Are Rare and Cherished Members of Historic Americana
Yellowstone bison are exceptional creatures because they among the few bison herds that have not been hybridized through interbreeding with cattle. Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. In fact, it is the exhibition of their ancestral wild behavior, such as congregating during the breeding season to compete for mates, as well as migration, that led to them becoming one of the greatest triumphs of American conservation. In 1902, after years of market hunting and poaching, there were only about two-dozen bison left in Yellowstone. According to park researchers, the next century marked the slow, but determined efforts to bring the species back from the brink of extinction. “The National Park Service is very proud of its role in restoring this iconic species,” Yellowstone park officials state on its website. So if the national Park is so proud of its bison population, WTH are they killing them off in masses?!? To put it simply, much of it has to do with cattle.
Yellowstone’s bison are one of America’s greatest conservation stories. Now, the government aims to kill 900 of them to make way for cattle.
America is Notorious for Favoring Cattle Industry Over Wildlife Protection
During harsh winters, Yellowstone bison sometimes migrate out of the park and into the border of southwestern Montana. As the park’s bison population grows, more animals migrate out of the park. While Yellowstone officials state that the population growth is partly the reason for the culling, they admit that much of the planned killings are to “mitigate social and political conflicts in Montana,” AKA – to appease ranchers who are using the land to graze cattle.
The federal government has been extremely generous to cattle ranchers when it comes to enforcing public land and wildlife protections. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an estimated 279 million acres of public lands across 11 western states has been cheaply rented to graze cattle. In fact, cattle grazing takes up a solid 42 percent of federally “protected” land!
Much of this is because ranchers have been able to lease and purchase public land at low costs with permits granted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service, despite being for-profit operations that are subsidized by taxpayers. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, “Private, unirrigated rangeland in the West rents out for an average of $11.90 [per cow and calf], while monthly grazing fees on federal lands are currently set at a paltry $1.35 per cow and calf.” At a fraction of the cost of renting private lands, it only seems logical that the opportunistic cattle rancher would opt to graze their animals on public lands.
Cattle grazing takes up a solid 42 percent of federally “protected” U.S. land.
On top of the feds practically giving away public land to ranchers, they have actually assisted the ranchers in killing off any wildlife that actually belongs on the land. One of the ways this is accomplished is through regular roundups of wild horses, in which these beautiful stallions are forced together and sold off to ranchers for $125 a pop. Most of the horses end up at auction where they can be purchased for any use the buyer the wishes including selling them off to the horse meat industry. These absurd actions by an agency that is supposed to protect wildlife has resulted in the near extinction of wild horses in the U.S. In addition to rounding up off nearly all of our wild horses, the Federal Wildlife Service kills 1.5 million wild animals per year, including wolves and coyotes, all to “make life safe for livestock and game species.” This is likely, in part, happening because state governments actually profit from leasing lands to cattle producers and charging for hunting permits. In recent history, the State of Montana has been taking on Yellowstone’s National Park’s bison due to fears over their potential interference with cattle ranching.
In 1995, Montana sued the National Park Service because bison were migrating out of the park onto state lands. A court-mediated settlement was reached in 2000 creating the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP), in which Yellowstone and seven other partners, including government agencies that lease the land to ranchers, hunters, and Native Indian tribes implement the mass roundups and killings of bison. The controversial agreement is often debated by the IBMP partners and their constituents, but that hasn’t stopped the massive culls of wild bison, as the largest one is now planned in this winter.
Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said in a statement that the National Park Service was uncomfortable with the practice and interested in alternatives, such as sending the animals to other public, private or tribal lands. “The park would gladly reduce the frequency and magnitude of these operations if migrating bison had access to more habitat outside the park or there was a way to transfer live bison elsewhere,” Wenk said.
Recently, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock approved a plan that for the first time would allow hundreds of bison to roam year-round on about 400 square miles of primarily public lands just west of Yellowstone. However, according to the Associated Press, this is expected to have little impact on the hunts and culling for the 2016 winter as most of the herds migrate into the Gardiner Basin north of the park, not on the west side where Bullock has put forth more land protections.
In addition, officials have put more emphasis on hunting just outside the park’s boundaries, including by members of American Indian tribes that have treaty rights to harvest the animals. Last winter saw the removal of 737 bison. That included 219 killed by hunters. Nearly all of the others were sent to slaughter or killed by wildlife patrols, according to the AP.
Are Ranchers’ Fears Over Bison Interference Warranted?
Reuters reports that wandering Yellowstone bison have upset ranchers who worry that the wild herds could infect their cows with brucellosis, a disease that has been virtually eliminated from Montana cattle. Many bison have been exposed to brucellosis, which can cause cows to miscarry their young. However, the basis of this fear is completely bogus as there is not a single recorded instance of brucellosis transmissions from bison to cattle disease.
According to wire services, ranchers are also worried that the wild bison will compete with their cattle for grazing land. This concern lacks solid foundation since the National Park’s own researchers have concluded that the bison herds have not reached the estimated food-limited carrying capacity of approximately 5,500 to 7,500 bison inside the park. Also, several assessments of conditions by scientists and land managers have indicated the park is not overgrazed.
There is not a single recorded instance of brucellosis transmissions from bison to cattle disease.
Government Killings of Wild Bison In the Name of “Conservation” is a Fallacy
According to the Associated Press, the cull is being conducted because of the legal agreement with Montana and not by environmental factors. “If there was more tolerance north of the park in Montana for wildlife, particularly bison … to travel outside the park boundaries, it wouldn’t be an issue,” Sandy Snell-Dobert said.
If the United States government and state agencies really cared about conservation efforts, the last thing they would do is kill off wild animals to further cattle ranching interests. This is because cattle ranching has a host of destructive effects. Cattle operations often cause water pollution due to waste containing hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals, ammonia, and pathogens. Grazing also leads to the erosion of our water systems. Without water, species diversity takes a serious drive and impacts stream habitats. In large numbers, they exhaust grazing areas. In addition to the destruction of the land, it takes an enormous amount of water to produce beef. On average, every pound of beef produced takes 1,700 gallons of water. Around half of lands in the U.S. devoted to cattle are overgrazed and highly subject to erosion and other forms of degradation.
As the Center for Biological Diversity puts it, “after decades of livestock grazing, once-lush streams and riparian forests have been reduced to flat, dry wastelands; once-rich topsoil has been turned to dust, causing soil erosion, stream sedimentation and wholesale elimination of some aquatic habitats; overgrazing of fire-carrying grasses has starved some western forests of fire, making them overly dense and prone to unnaturally severe fires.”
Public Land is Supposed to be a Haven for Wildlife, Not a Death Trap
Yellowstone was established in 1872 as America’s first national park – a mountain wilderness, home to grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of bison and elk. The park is one of the last, nearly intact ecosystems in the Earth’s temperate zone. Montana’s public state land along its border is too part of America’s cherished open space. These areas have been designated to conserve and protect our natural ecosystems. For taxpayer dollars to then subsidize the ranching industry, which kills off species at the very places that have been designated to protect them, is not only un-American, it’s utterly ridiculous.
As taxpaying citizens, it is time that we put an end to these mass slaughters. These lands belong to us all, including the bison, and their protection is in all of our interest. The bison culling is simply a result of the numerous cattle ranching businesses that have been able to have their way with our public land for far too long.
To stop the U.S. government from funding their systematic destruction, check out the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands campaign and-and sign this petition to revoke grazing permits. Information is power. Share this article and demand that The National Parks Service protect the land and habitats it has been entrusted to do.
Lead image source: Herbert/National Parks Service