Friday, February 15, 2008

Grieving over Yellowstone's Buffalo



Here is the National Park Service's explanation of the buffalo (bison) round up that is ongoing right now.

Now, I grew up in cattle country and still own ranchland. And I know that I don't have nearly enough information about the current buffalo slaughter to even have a very good informed opinion.

Brucelosis is a problem disease for cows that causes still born calves. The cattle industry naturally wants to eradicate the disease for reasonable financial reasons. Cattle ranchers are real people who just want to feed their families like the rest of us. And, they have to fight bad weather, years with no rain, prices for their product that they can't control - it is NOT easy to be a cattle rancher. It is hard work and I have a great deal of respect for all aspects of the agricultural sector.

However, in terms of the Yellowstone buffalo, there does not seem to be adequate research as to whether buffalo can actually spread the disease back to cattle. Folks, that research needs to be done - it does not make sense to kill animals because they "might" pose a threat. How much would it have cost to test the buffalo that were sent to slaughter? If elk can also carry the disease - why are we picking on the buffalo?

Why does it matter? Why do I care? Why does this news story bother me right now?

The story of the buffalo is part of our American culture and history - part of the story of the American Plains Indians. The slaughter of the buffalo in the 1800's whether to feed the workers building the railroad or to remove the food supply of the Indians (depending upon which story you were told) was a great tragedy in so many ways. We almost lost a species (actually we did lose one of the types of buffalo.) Certainly, the buffalo are one of the symbols of the great American west. And, thankfully, the population of existing buffalo is currently healthy.

Having been to Yellowstone numerous times, buffalo are fascinating to watch. Watching the bulls follow the cows during mating season - hearing them grunt . . . The wonder of a buffalo swimming across the Yellowstone River . . . the energy of calves play, the herd behavior as the buffalo move from one area of the park to another. All of this is part of the wonder that is Yellowstone.

We idealize our national parks - we want nature to rule. We want the animal deaths in a national park to be natural ones - from predation, weather, old age, etc. (And the laws are structured that way) It just feels ugly that the Park Service would be killing part of the natural resource of the park. And I think I would feel very differently if they were doing the slaughter because of over population to prevent suffering from starvation.

Another reality, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is HUGE! Why is there not room for this free ranging buffalo herd to live in peace? Don't we have plenty of grazing land away from the park boundaries? Should tax payer money (or private money) be spent creating a fenced barrier zone so that these buffalo don't have to be needlessly killed? As in so many things in life - I wonder why different groups of people can't get together and work out more positive solutions to issues like this.


More random buffalo facts:

One of the first national wildlife refuges was set up for buffalo habitat in Oklahoma. It is still ongoing - buffalo are still doing well there. There are lots of cattle operations in Oklahoma. Difference: The Oklahoma refuge is probably completely fenced such that the buffalo can't leave, but they live pretty ordinary buffalo lives. And perhaps the herd at the Oklahoma refuge has been tested and found free from brucelosis.

There are other herds of buffalo outside Yellowstone. The current slaughter of buffalo in Yellowstone will not cause an extinction of the species. And there are many private herds of buffalo being raised for the meat outside the park. (But why aren't nearby cattle people upset about brucelosis issues with domesticated buffalo - perhaps they are vaccinated or tested???)

And . . . by the way, yes, probably it is more scientifically correct to call the bison - not buffalo. But I was raised in the American west, and in some way, they will always be buffalo to me.

1 comment:

David said...

I was just watching the live cam in yellowstone and since that area is closed to the public right now I got a picture of a number of Bison feeding. What a pleasure and bless your website. I love Bison more than I can say.