Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Update on Yellowstone's Bison and Montana's cattle industry

Sigh . . . Despite all the effort of the state of Montana and the cattle industry, Montana has lost its brucellosis-free status. From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle comes the information that the owner of the cow did everything "right." The cow had been vaccinated twice and was part of a herd management plan. For the unfortunate owner, the entire herd may have to be slaughtered. For all of Montana, all cattle over 18 months old shipped out of state must be tested for brucellosis thirty days before shipping. For cattle owners on tight budgets this will be costly. Plus there had been plans to ship cattle to Russia that will now have to be scrapped costing Montana ranchers a new market for their livestock.

But, what is worse, to me it means that all those Yellowstone bison were slaughtered "for nothing." Montana still lost its brucellosis-free status. Bison were not the cause of this latest case.

From Robert Hoskin's comment on "Ralph Maughan's Wildlife News," the bison census numbers seem to show that from a population last summer of 4300, the current population may only be as few as 1300-1400 left after the natural winter kill and the slaughter. If my math is correct that means we lost 67% of Yellowstone's bison this past winter!

Brucellosis is truly an issue for the cattle industry.The Bozeman Daily Chronicle has another excellent article about how it will affect the ranchers. And not all ranchers are "big business." Many are just small family ranches with a few hundred head. But killing 2300 bison did not prevent the problem. With winter conditions still present in the park (Hayden Valley still had snow cover as of last week with minimal grass growth) more bison may die of natural causes. Bison are herd animals and the social groups have certainly been disrupted by the slaughter of family and herd groups. It will take awhile for their numbers to increase.

Further, I've read stories of property owners near the park who wanted to allow the bison on their lands. However, despite their efforts, their property rights were violated as helicopters and horsemen hazed the bison through their lands to get them back in the park.

Folks, this is just not a pretty picture anyway you look at it.

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