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Each winter the bison that leave Yellowstone in search of food are rounded up and shipped to slaughter. The reason? To keep the parks bison from passing disease on to cattle in near by ranch lands. Nine environmental groups in all have joined together to sue the National Parks Service and the Forest Service. The environmental and American Indian coalition group have lobbied their case to government agencies and congress, but with no success. If won, the lawsuit would bar these agencies from participating in the round up and slaughter.
In the Past decade 3,300 bison have been rounded up, with 1,400 (more than a third of the parks population) going to slaughter in 2008 alone. The agreement was reached in 2000 between Montana and the federal government, allowing the bison to be killed so they would not come into contact with cattle. The bison of Yellowstone National Park are known to carry a disease called brucellosis, which causes the cows to abort their young. Although most recent known cases of cattle contracting the disease are attributed to contact with elk, the bison are rounded up because they are easier to track.
As a result of the 2008 numbers the Government Accountability Office filled a report reprimanding Montana and the federal agencies involved for not protecting Yellowstone’s bison. Since that time, the agencies have lightened up and let some bison graze where cattle no longer do, as well as opened up migration corridors for easier access to grazing on Forest Service lands.
Progress on the issue has been slow. Forest Service Spokeswoman Marna Daley told the AP that due to pressure form both sides of the issue, including the cattle industry, they have had to take “baby steps,” but are looking for more opportunities for bison to graze outside the park.
The coalition filling the suit doesn’t seem satisfied, telling the AP:
“They are slaughtering these animals indiscriminately. We might be seeing the slow extinction of the American bison,” said Stephany Seay with the Buffalo Field Campaign, another plaintiff in the case.
Next up on the home on the range throw-down: Cattle vs. Bison, who will win?