A prevalent disease in Yellowstone National Park bison is leading to the culling of up to 900 bison, leading to contentious debate.
No matter the situation, the handling of bison in America will always be of grave concern. This isn’t without precedent. For eons, millions upon millions of prairie and forest bison roamed North America. It only took 100 years for them to all but disappear.
So when Yellowstone National Park needs to manage its herd, it must be a joint effort between federal, tribal, and state officials. As it stands in late 2021, Yellowstone is looking to cull another 600 to 900 bison from their lands as a result of brucellosis.
According to the CDC, brucellosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. Most often, we find the disease in our livestock: sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs. But both humans and our dogs are susceptible to brucellosis through contact, too.
In the wild, the disease can become prevalent in large herds of hooved animals. Bison are no exception, with elk often transmitting the disease, as well. And right now, Yellowstone National Park is met with a brucellosis dilemma.
Yellowstone National Park Bison Culling a Result of Brucellosis Quarantine Limitations
Yellowstone’s brucellosis quarantine program can only hold under 100 bison at a time. As a result, hundreds of others will be shot by hunters for harvesting or rounded up for slaughter, reports Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
This has yet to be signed into action, however. It’s up to a board of partners to do so; made up of federal, tribal, and state government agency officials. Each manages the species under the Interagency Bison Management Plan, established in 2000.
But this committee must also prevent brucellosis from spreading to local livestock. Here’s the kicker, though: There has never been a documented transmission of brucellosis from bison to livestock in the wild.
Elk, however, have spread the disease to livestock.
Tribal Officials Debate Over Fate of American Bison
To prevent such drastic culling in the future, Yellowstone National Park is now working on expanding their bison quarantine capabilities as part of their Bison Conservation and Transfer Program. It’s a joint effort by Yellowstone, tribes, nonprofits and outside partners to divert disease-free bison from needless slaughter.
And while increasing quarantine will lead to less senseless loss of our last true bison herd, it will lead to less hunting opportunities for tribal members. Combine this with the fact that bison aren’t known to transmit brucellosis to livestock, and the issue becomes doubly dumbfounding for tribal officials.
“As the (bison) population gets a little bit bigger every year, I can’t help but think about how much the population of cattle increased,” says Quincy Ellenwood, representing the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. “I understand that you are looking out for a way of life. But that way of life radically changed my way of life …. Sixty million (bison) once roamed freely in North America.”
President of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, Ervin Carlson, however, believes quarantine is the answer. Preserving the genetics of Yellowstone National Park bison is paramount, he says, and “critical for cultural herds across the country.”