Natural Resource Defense CouncilJune/July 2011 – Nature’s Voice www.nrdc.org/naturesvoice
Every winter as heavy snows blanket the high country, hundreds of Yellowstone's legendary buffalo, also known as bison, set out along routes that they've used for generations, attempting to migrate north of the park's borders in search of food. For the first time in decades, they will now be allowed to make this ancient journey in peace. Federal, state and tribal agencies that manage Yellowstone's bison have announced an historic agreement that will permit the animals to graze on 75,000 acres of land in Montana's Gardiner Basin during the winter and most of the spring. Previously, the once free-roaming buffalo were hazed back into the park or rounded up by government agents and herded into "capture facilities," where they lived crowded together for months, subsisting on daily rations of hay. Even worse, thousands of the animals have been slaughtered over the past decade.
"This is a tremendous victory," says Matt Skoglund, a wildlife advocate in NRDC's Montana office. "Our Members and online activists have long championed a more enlightened policy for Yellowstone's buffalo. It's fantastic that our voices have been heard." Where once settlers in the West celebrated an idyllic vision of "a home where the buffalo roam," the modern relationship between bison and the livestock industry has been anything but harmonious. Montana's ranching interests have long maintained that bison might infect cattle with brucellosis, a disease that can cause domestic cows to miscarry, and they have lobbied heavily to keep the bison restricted to Yellowstone. In fact, brucellosis transmission has never been documented. And, as the new plan suggests, science is beginning to prevail.
In the meantime, our campaign continues to press government agencies to allow the animals peaceable access to other portions of their historic winter habitat. Each winter, hundreds of bison cross Yellowstone's western border and make their way to the Horse Butte peninsula in Montana. The grass-covered peninsula is rich in forage and is an historic birthing ground for the buffalo. While they are allowed to graze on Horse Butte during the winter and into the spring, government agents in helicopters and on horseback haze the animals back into Yellowstone come the middle of May. This cruel treatment is needless, as the peninsula is entirely free of cattle year-round. "It's time to bring reason and science into every aspect of how we manage the buffalo," says Skoglund. "The government should be treating Yellowstone's wild herd as the natural and cultural treasure that it is, not as a public nuisance."