IT'S STILL G-O-O-O-ING!
The Fund for Animals Statement in Response to
Record of Decision for the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Bison Management Plan
for the State of Montana and Yellowstone National Park
12/26/00, The Fund for Animals

Despite ten years of effort, millions of tax dollars, and overwhelming public opinion opposed to the ongoing slaughter of Yellowstone’s bison, the federal government has authorized the implementation of a scientifically fraudulent, inhumane, unnecessary, and costly bison management strategy. The Joint Management Plan will continue to permit the shooting and inhumane slaughter of America’s bison to protect slightly more than 2,000 cows at an annual cost of 1.7 million taxpayer dollars. The government’s complete failure to develop a sensible, humane, scientifically credible, and cost-effective plan undermines the interests of the American public and the integrity of the National Park System. The National Park Service’s (NPS) desire to capitulate to the preposterous demands of Montana has caused it to abandon its mandate to protect Yellowstone and all of its wild inhabitants.

The NPS ignored more than 70,000 comments it received demanding increased protection for Yellowstone bison both inside and outside of the park. Instead, it has capitulated to the preposterous demands of the livestock industry and state livestock agencies, and in doing so, has abandoned its mandate to protect Yellowstone and all of its wild inhabitants.

Establishing a dangerous precedent for wildlife management in and outside of national parks, the bison management plan is not based on the best available scientific evidence and is entirely focused on bison instead of imposing any new requirements on Montana’s cattle producers. Given the overwhelming evidence of a lack of any measurable risk of Brucella abortus transmission from bison to cattle, the 1.7 million dollar annual price tag on the Joint Management Plan represents an enormous fleecing of the American taxpayer and is antithetical to the protection of a wild and free-roaming bison population in America’s most famous national park.

The Fund for Animals' objections to the Joint Management Plan include, but are not limited to, the following:

UNACCEPTABLE EMPHASIS ON BISON: Despite public demands that the government emphasize the management of cattle instead of bison to resolve this controversy, the government, as it has done for the past 15 years, has focused its management efforts entirely on bison, proposing no new changes in cattle management practices. The voluntary cattle vaccination program is not new as cattle producers in the Yellowstone area already vaccinate their livestock. Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay for the vaccination costs under the Joint Management Plan, these producers will now financially benefit from even more federal welfare. Considering that Brucella abortus was originally introduced to Yellowstone’s bison by cattle, the Joint Management Plan must, at a minimum, impose substantive changes in cattle management practices. The Joint Management Plan, however, does not identify public land grazing allotments to be closed nor does it impose any mandatory changes to cattle stocking dates, rates, or husbandry practices. Instead the government imposes no new restrictions on an industry that has never taken an affirmative step to help resolve this controversy.

FAILURE TO RECOGNIZE THE LACK OF ANY VALID EVIDENCE TO DEMONSTRATE A RISK OF BRUCELLA ABORTUS TRANSMISSION BETWEEN BISON AND CATTLE: The government justifies the Joint Management Plan based solely on a seriously flawed study at Texas A&M University, which found that the Brucella abortus bacteria can be transmitted from bison to cattle in a confined, laboratory environment. The fact that the bison used in the experiment were given an excessive dose of the bacteria or that they were maintained in small paddocks with cattle -- an environment entirely inconsistent with the conditions in the wild -- has been ignored by the government. The reality, based on the government’s own data, is that there is no measurable risk of bacteria transmission between bison and cattle in the wild. (See Attachment 1.) The government has ignored these facts in the development of the Joint Management Plan, preferring instead to rely on the rhetoric of the livestock industry and its affiliated agencies to create a false perception of risk in an attempt to justify its excessive, inhumane, and scientifically indefensible management scheme.

FAILURE TO JUSTIFY REJECTION OF ENVIRONMENTALLY PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE: The government concedes that Alternative 2 “would minimize human intervention [in bison management], discontinue the use of capture, test and slaughter, focus on managing cattle rather than bison, . . . result in the largest area of acquired land for winter range, . . . [and] would offer the largest benefits to most environmental resources analyzed in the EIS.” ROD at 21. Despite the conclusion that Alternative 2 is the “environmentally preferred alternative,” which is “most consistent with the overwhelming majority of public comment,” the government rejected this alternative in favor of a more environmentally destructive alternative without any rational explanation for its decision. The Council on Environmental Quality defines an environmentally preferred alternative to be the alternative that “causes the least damage to the biological and physical environment and best protects, preserves and enhances historic, cultural and natural resources.” Though The Fund for Animals does not completely endorse Alternative 2, the government’s rejection of this alternative, given its benefits, is arbitrary and capricious.

FAILURE TO PROMOTE HABITAT ACQUISITION TO PROVIDE INCREASED WINTER RANGE FOR YELLOWSTONE’S BISON: Though the Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statements promote ongoing efforts to acquire additional habitat for Yellowstone’s bison and other wildlife, the Record of Decision does not identify habitat acquisition as part of the Joint Management Plan. If the government has decided to abandon habitat acquisition efforts, such a decision is inconsistent with the long-term survival and viability of Yellowstone’s bison and other wildlife and will result in the continued degradation and development of lands outside of the park to the detriment of the ecology of the park and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

CONTINUED RELIANCE ON ILLEGAL BISON VACCINATION SCHEME: Cattle, not bison, should be subject to vaccination against brucellosis. The government, however, continues to emphasize the vaccination of bison both inside and outside of Yellowstone to allegedly reduce the prevalence of the bacteria in the herd. Considering that the bacteria causes no adverse impacts to the Yellowstone bison population and that the risk of bacteria transmission between bison and cattle is immeasurable, the government’s insistence on implementing a bison vaccination program is misguided and is intended only to give the appearance that the NPS is taking some management action. This lame attempt to pacify state and federal livestock agency officials on the part of the NPS is inconsistent with the concept of responsible wildlife management and is simply illegal. Under the Joint Management Plan, the federal government and Montana could begin the vaccination of captured bison calves immediately without any additional National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance. A whole-herd vaccination program could conceivably begin in just a few years. In the government’s haste to implement a bison vaccination program, it has never solicited public comment on the merits, appropriateness, or legality of vaccinating wild bison either inside or outside of the park. The existing analysis is illegal since it fails to identify and evaluate all components of a bison vaccination program in a single document for consideration and review by the public.

PROVIDES UNACCEPTABLE AUTHORITY TO STATE LIVESTOCK AGENCY OFFICIALS TO FORCE MONTANA TO IMPLEMENT EVEN MORE RESTRICTIVE BISON MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES: Under the Joint Management Plan, Montana is authorized to implement any “bison management activities necessary to allow for the free marketability of livestock transported from the state,” ROD at 33, if any state imposes sanctions on Montana’s cattle. This is an invitation for any state, potentially at the request of the Montana State Veterinarian, to impose sanctions on Montana’s cattle in order to justify Montana’s return to a zero-tolerance policy for bison. Providing such authority to state veterinarians and state livestock agencies who have no interest in protecting Yellowstone bison is inappropriate and unacceptable.

FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH THE NPS’S NATURAL REGULATION MANDATE: The Joint Management Plan is inconsistent with the NPS’s mandate to protect wildlife and natural processes within Yellowstone. Not only does the Joint Management Plan continue to permit the illegal capture of bison inside of the park at the Stephen’s Creek capture facility, but it also permits the hazing of bison within the park, implements a whole-herd, park-wide bison vaccination effort, and fails to utilize available strategies to naturally control the size, distribution, and movements of Yellowstone’s bison. Indeed, if the NPS was genuinely concerned about the long-term survival of the Yellowstone bison population and complying with federal statutes and its own regulations, it would immediately terminate winter road grooming practices to reduce the number and rate of bison emigrating from the park. Recent reports that Yellowstone’s groomed road system has not facilitated bison emigration into Montana are inaccurate and based on a flawed study that only evaluated bison use of the road system over two winters and only after the population had been dramatically reduced by management actions during the winter of 1996-97.

In the end, after ten years and an enormous expenditure of taxpayer dollars, the government’s Joint Management Plan demonstrates that the government has no interest in public opinion, no concern for scientific integrity, no allegiance to protecting the integrity and inhabitants of America’s most famous national park, no respect for the law, no compassion for the thousands of Yellowstone bison who have been and will continue to be killed, and no qualms about wasting millions of American tax dollars to implement a plan to kill America’s bison to protect a mere 2,000 cows. The American public, including the animal protection and conservation community who have worked so hard and so long to increase protection for America’s bison both inside and outside of Yellowstone National Park, are rightfully outraged and offended by the Joint Management Plan. The Fund for Animals, on behalf of its members and the millions of citizens from all over the world who cherish Yellowstone and its bison, will consider all options, including litigation, to right this wrong and to force the government to implement a more sensible, humane, and scientifically justifiable bison and cattle management plan.

ATTACHMENT 1

The following table and text were included in the October 17, 2000 comments of The Fund for Animals in response to the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the long-term management of Yellowstone’s bison. The purpose of this table and text was to quantify the risk of Brucella abortus transmission from bison to cattle by calculating the number of potentially infectious female bison who may emigrate from Yellowstone National Park if the total Yellowstone bison population numbers 2,800 animals. The government has consistently claimed that it cannot calculate transmission risk.

The Fund, using the government’s own data which were either contained in the Final EIS or obtained via information requests, demonstrates below that the government is wrong, and that after calculating the risk of transmission, the risk is so minuscule that it is immeasurable. The original table and text has been modified for use in this document. The table contains an estimate of the total number of potentially infectious female bison who may emigrate from Yellowstone National Park using variable percentages most favorable to bison and variable percentages which may best represent current conditions.
 
 

Variable Pro-Bison Estimate
 Current Conditions 
Population Size 2,800
Gov. Estimate 
Population Size 2,800
% of population emigrating from park
5
15 
% of emigrating bison who are adults 
72 
72 
% of emigrating adult bison who are female
 50 
50
% of emigrating female bison who are pregnant 
45.7 
66.4 
% of pregnant emigrating bison who are seropositive 
39
 50 
% of pregnant emigrating bison who are culture positive 
22 
% of culture positive, pregnant, emigrating bison who are infectious 
6.6
 20 
Number of potentially infectious bison outside of the park
 .04 
2.2 
 

As indicated in Table 1, the total number of potentially infectious female bison giving birth or experiencing a reproductive failure outside of the park is 0.4 using the variables most favorable to bison and 2.2 using variables that may best represent current conditions. In reality, these numbers significantly overestimate the actual risk of a transmission event. This overestimate is due to a number of factors, described below, which reduces the risk of a transmission event.

1.  Not all seropositive, culture positive pregnant bison who emigrate from Yellowstone will expel the Brucella abortus bacteria into the environment. A bison can be culture positive without having the bacteria in her reproductive tract.

2.  Reproductive failures (i.e., abortions, stillbirths, birth of weak calves who subsequently die) are rare in Yellowstone bison.

3.  The birthing behavior of bison also reduces the risk of a transmission event since bison, much like elk, consume reproductive materials after a birthing event.

4.  Predator and scavenger activities function to sterilize a reproductive failure or birth site by consuming potentially contaminated reproductive products.

5.  The lack of spatial and temporal overlap of bison and cattle will substantially minimize the likelihood of a transmission event.  If cattle are not present in an area then there is no direct threat of a transmission event if a reproductive failure or birthing event occurs which results in the expulsion of the bacteria.

6.  Cattle vaccinated against brucellosis are unlikely to develop an infection even if exposed to the Brucella abortus organism.

7.  The persistence of the bacteria in the environment, or lack thereof, substantially reduces the indirect risk of a transmission event. In his study of bacteria persistence, Cook (1999) determined that the bacteria survived in the environment for 60.5 days in February but only for 8.8, 2.8, and 4.7 days in April, May, and June, respectively. These bacteria persistence measurements probably overestimate the actual persistence because these estimates were obtained from the underside of fetuses. Bacteria persistence on the surface of the fetuses was 4, 0.6, and 0.3 days in April, May, and June, respectively. If the bacteria is not present in sufficient amounts to cause an infection or if the bacteria does not persist in the environment, then the risk of transmission is immeasurable.

This analysis suggests that when using the most probable bison population, bacteria prevalence, and transmission risk variables, a bison population of 2,800 animals will result in 2.2 potentially infectious female bison experiencing a reproductive failure or birthing event outside the park in a given year. When this result is combined with the factors which reduce the risk of a direct or indirect transmission event, it becomes abundantly clear that there is no legitimate or measurable risk of transmission.


 
 

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