Buffalo Is Back, But…


The Guardian story below captures vividly the meaning of the law of unintended consequences that sometimes governs in cases of conservation:

The American bison once faced extinction – now they’re being culled. Native American photographer Joe Whittle attends a hunt held by tribal members

by Joe Whittle at Yellowstone National Park

Every winter the small town of Gardiner, Montana, welcomes Native American tribal members from around the Inland Northwest. Hospitality businesses are happy to see them arrive during the off-season, but they’re not the only ones – ranchers are thrilled.

The tribal members are there to hunt American bison (or buffalo) that wander out of Yellowstone national park to find forage during winter. Bison are naturally migrating animals, and as the frozen snows of winter make finding sustenance difficult and competitive, herds start to head to lower elevations to seek sufficient feed.

The north entrance of Yellowstone is at the edge of Gardiner, and the wild roaming bison that leave the park often walk right into town or on to private property. That’s when the interests of the bison and private landowners begin to conflict.

On top of safety concerns and property damage that have some residents wanting them removed, nearly half of Yellowstone’s bison carry a non-native disease called brucellosis, originally transmitted to them by European cattle more than a century ago. While it does not affect bison, it can cause pregnant cattle to lose their calves.

It’s theoretically possible for the disease to be transmitted from wild roaming bison to cattle, although there have been no documented cases of it. The likelihood of transmission is very low: a cow would have to eat grass on which a buffalo calf was just born on to be contaminated (transmission occurs with the ingestion of birthing fluids).

Nonetheless, fears of brucellosis caused the state of Montana to sue Yellowstone on behalf of the livestock industry in 1995, eventually forcing the park to agree to cap its bison population at around 3,000 animals – about half the population Yellowstone can sustain before significant habitat damage and overgrazing would begin to occur. As a result of the mandated population target, the Park Service now has to kill several hundred bison annually to even approach that population goal…

Read the whole article here.

4 thoughts on “Buffalo Is Back, But…

  1. Pingback: Buffalo Is Back, But… – Making Waves Outreach

  2. Pingback: Medicine Crow, Last War Chief of his Tribe, Dies at 102 | Raxa Collective

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