WASHINGTON (CN) – Environmental groups, led by the Western Watersheds Project, have asked a federal judge to stop the National Park Service from slaughtering more than 300 bison caught roaming outside Yellow Stone National Park.
The motion filed on Feb. 3, claims that the Park Service routinely slaughters hundreds of bison during harsh winters when they stray from the park while foraging for food in their historical range, north into Montana. Western Watersheds says cumulative impact from the slaughter is causing irreparable harm to the park’s herd, which fluctuates between 2,300 to 4,500 animals, according to the agency’s website.
The Park Service routinely kills bison carrying brucellosis, a bacteria that causes domestic cows to abort their calves and can be transmitted to humans through milk from infected cows.
During moderate winters, only those bison carrying brucellosis are slaughtered when caught outside the park. But in harsh winters, so many bison leave the park that Yellowstone’s winter bison camp – where strays are placed until spring – quickly reaches capacity and even healthy animals are euthanized.
Since the current winter has been especially harsh across the nation, snowpack in the park is 30 percent above normal. As a result, large numbers of bison have left the park to forage on adjacent public range lands.
According to the Buffalo Field Campaign, the conditions are similar to those in the winter of 2008 when more than 1,400 bison were euthanized. The group is one of the plaintiffs asking for the injunction and in a long-running battle to overturn the interagency bison management plan, which governs husbandry of the Yellowstone herd.
“Who exactly are the agencies serving by repeating the senseless slaughter of 2008?” Gallatin Wildlife Association volunteer president Glenn Hockett asked the court in a declaration filed with the motion.
“There is no good reason to slaughter these magnificent creatures when substantial conflict-free winter range habitat is available to these bison outside the Park at this time both on public and private land,” wrote Hockett, who is a professional range ecologist.
The conservation groups are trying to overturn the bison management plan because they say the agencies executing the plan are violating its rules by harassing, confining and killing the animals when less extreme measures, such as allowing them to graze in buffer zones adjacent to the park, are available.
The Park Service says that Yellowstone is the only place bison have lived continuously in the United States since prehistoric times, and that the Yellowstone bison are the only population known to be free of cattle genes from crossbreeding with domestic cattle.