Conservation Groups Call for National Park Service Moratorium on Yellowstone Bison Slaughter

Park Service Killed 170 Yellowstone Bison Earlier This Week

WASHINGTON (March 6, 2003) -- This week the National Park Service sent some 170 Yellowstone National Park bison to the slaughterhouse when they were about to wander outside the park in search for food, prompting national conservation and animal protection groups to call for a moratorium on killing the nation's last free-ranging bison herd.

On March 3 and 4 the National Park Service captured the bison near Yellowstone National Park's northern entrance less than 10 miles from Gardiner, Montana. According to eyewitnesses, many of the bison had not crossed the boundary of Yellowstone when park rangers herded them into a holding pen. This is the first time the park service has used the pen since the winter of 1996-1997, when it killed approximately 1,100 bison.

"This represents a radical departure from the Park Service's mandate to protect park resources for future generations," said Tony Jewett of the National Parks Conservation Association. "The service has switched from protecting these animals to an aggressive policy of sending them to slaughter. There is something terribly wrong at Yellowstone."

In severe winter weather, Yellowstone bison wander near and beyond the park's boundaries in search of food at lower elevations. Over the last few decades, Montana's Department of Livestock has harrassed and killed bison when they cross the unmarked park boundary into Montana. This department uses this extreme form of wildlife management allegedly to protect nearby cattle from brucellosis. However, this disease has never been transmitted from free-roaming bison to cattle, most of which are vaccinated. Further, park rangers did not test the bison it captured earlier this week for the disease. They just sent them to slaughter in cattle trucks.

"It's as if the Interior Department has made a calculated decision to draw a bulls-eye around Yellowstone and start firing,"said Caroline Kennedy, director of special projects for Defenders of Wildlife. "This administration is cutting the heart out of our nation's oldest national park and turning their backs on decades of commitment to protect and resurrect one of America's greatest living symbols and resources."

Buffalo have a celebrated history. At one time, they were an integral part of the culture and history of the American West, and central to the lives and religion of Native American tribes. In the early 19th century, several million buffalo roamed the Great Plains, but by the mid-1890s, only a few dozen remained. The Yellowstone buffalo herd was the only free-roaming buffalo herd not exterminated by the late 1800s, and it remains the only free-range herd in the country. The buffalo's recovery from near extinction is considered one of the greatest conservation success stories in American history.

The National Park Service slaughter of the Yellowstone bison has drawn the attention of Rep. Nick Rahall (W.Va.), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Resources. In a March 5 letter to Fran Maniella, director of the National Park Service, Rahall asked Maniella for justification for the recent killings, stating that "the slaughter of wildlife unique to a National Park is so antithetical to the NPS mission that detailed information regarding the justifications for this activity is needed."

"These bison were rounded up and shipped to slaughter by the very agency that is mandated to protect them," said Bette Stallman, wildlife scientist at the Humane Society of the United States. "The fact that they were not even tested for exposure to disease before slaughter indicates that this is more about politics than any legitimate disease risk."

Charles Clusen, director of the Natural Resource Defense Council's National Parks Program said the recent action was "unconscionable." "The National Park Service killing bison is akin to a doctor killing his patients. Congress mandated the park service to be the steward, not the executioner, of our last free-roaming bison herd. It is unconscionable that the park service is stopping these bison from roaming onto lands near Yellowstone that the federal government purchased specifically for bison winter habitat."

Conservation groups say there is a better way to manage the herd without resorting to killing buffalo. They recommend that state and federal authorities:

  • Allow buffalo to roam freely on the easement lands recently purchased by the U.S. Forest Service from the Church Universal and Triumphant, a religious group that owned 7,800 acres of prime buffalo winter habitat outside the park. The Forest Service specifically bought this land for buffalo habitat.
  • Allow buffalo to utilize unused cattle allotments west of Yellowstone Park.
  • Phase out cattle grazing on public land north and west of Yellowstone, which would provide additional winter habitat for Yellowstone buffalo.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.