Yellowstone National Park is trying to take a new direction in bison management. The National Park Service has a plan to shift away from its nearly-annual practice of sending bison to slaughter to control population growth.
Instead, the Park Service wants to send some bison into quarantine on tribal land.
Montana’s Environmental Quality Council is following this issue closely. Montana could take on some of the responsibly for bison management depending on how the Park Service’s plan rolls out.
Yellowstone Park Superintendent Dan Wenk testified before the council Thursday about the proposed Yellowstone Bison Quarantine Program’s environmental assessment.
“For over two decades the capture and consignment to slaughter facilitates has been a constant part of bison management operations. However, this aspect of the management program has been highly controversial and advocates for many constant groups have called for a reduction in slaughter of bison.”
Quarantined habitat is an option because it would move some bison away from the slaughter house and protect against the spread of infection that many bison carry - brucellosis.
The infection can cause abortions and infertility in cattle and bison. If the quarantine program is done effectively, Wenk says the infection is unlikely to spread.
“The risk of brucellosis transmission to animals is extremely limited. Maybe even realistically zero, if we go through a process where all candidates must initially test negative when first captured.”
The Park Service has outlined three alternatives for their plan. One: do nothing, and bison management remains the same as it is now. Two: a quarantine program could be setup within Yellowstone. Or, three: the quarantine program could be set up on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana.
The National Park Service is pushing for that last option, on Fort Peck. But there is some push back from Montana livestock interests.
“As a general policy the Montana Farm Bureau does not support the establish of a quarantine facility anywhere outside of the DSA.”
That’s Chelcie Cargill with the Farm Bureau. The DSA she refers to is Montana’s Designated Surveillance Area that helps control the spread of brucellosis. Montana’s DSA is located directly adjacent to Yellowstone, far south west of the Fort Peck Reservation.
State Veterinarian for the Department of Livestock Marty Zaluski also expressed concern over a quarantine area on Fort Peck.
“You are proposing a scenario where you take brucellosis-exposed animals from an area where we have brucellosis several hundred miles away, to an area where we don’t. Additionally, in that area, we don’t have any significant cattle surveillance. And therefore if there is a transmission we would not be able to detect it in a rapid manner.”
The tribes on the Fort Peck Reservation have developed a half million dollar quarantine facility with assistance of federal funds. The tribal chairman Floyd Azure says this is an issue of cultural importance, and he wants bison to come to Fort Peck.
“You go across the United States, there are numerous tribes that are allowed to utilize their native foods, native herbs, native religions. Part of ours is the bison. It’s part of our religion. It’s part of our culture. Our main food source, that’s what we are asking for.”
Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk says the tribes have the infrastructure to handle the bison.
“Fort Peck has a completely contained double fenced paddock that includes a corral and a processing area located within the 13,000 acre wild bison pasture that is also completely fenced.”
Several members of the Environmental Quality Council blamed bison population challenges on poor management by the National Park Service. And they said that a fence does not a guarantee that an infected bison won’t get out into Montana’s livestock.
The National Park Services is aiming to decide on which direction the Yellowstone Bison Quarantine Program will take this month. Public comment on the environmental assessment for the program closed in February.