ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2011:

MISSOULA, Montana–Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer on March 17, 2011 authorized bison wandering out of Yellowstone National Park to graze within the Gardiner Basin, flanking the Yellowstone River on either side for about 13 miles north of Yellowstone. Bison who wander farther, into the Paradise Valley south of Livingston, will be shot, said Montana gubernatorial natural resources advisor Mike Volesky.

The March 17 order was Schweitzer’s second attempt in 2010 to resolve the annual winter conflict between the instinct of bison to migrate out of Yellowstone to lower elevations in search of forage, and the hostility of ranchers to the presence of bison from fear that they may transmit brucellosis to domestic cattle–which has in fact never happened.

Brucellosis, a bacterial disease which causes still births in hooved animals, is also carried by elk in the Yellowstone region, who are encouraged to roam freely as coveted targets of hunters.

Earlier Schweitzer allowed 25 bison to enter a 2,500-acre pasture within the Gallatin National Forest. The bison were removed when they repeatedly left the National Forest. Recommending that bison should be hunted within Yellowstone to reduce the pressure to migrate outside the park, Schweitzer on February 13, 2011 issued an
executive order valid until May 15 against trucking bison through Montana for slaughter.

This obliged Yellowstone National Park staff to hold about 560 bison in corrals at Stephens Creek, after they were captured while leaving the park, with about 70 more bison in an “overflow” facility at Corwin Springs. The Stephens Creek site has a separate holding area for bison who test positive for exposure to brucellosis.
The Corwin Springs site can only keep bison who test negative. Those who test positive are expected to be trucked to slaughter in May, while the rest are released back into the park.

The pro-bison organization Buffalo Field Campaign pointed out that the crowded holding conditions increase the risk that any bison who have brucellosis may spread it.

The bison issue simmered parallel to conflict over the presence outside Yellowstone of gray wolves, their major wild predators, who were reintroduced to the region in 1995. There are now about 1,700 wolves in the park and surrounding states.

Ten conservation groups on March 18, 20011 announced a settlement with the U.S. Department of the Interior which would remove gray wolves in Idaho and Montana from Endangered Species Act protection, meaning that wolf hunting would resume in Idaho and Montana. Wolves would remain protected in Washington, Oregon,
Wyoming, and Utah.

“If accepted by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula, the settlement could short-circuit efforts in Congress to force the wolf back to state control,” assessed Rob Chaney of The Missoulian. “But it also fractured the wolf supporters’ legal coalition, with some groups charging they’re giving up a victory
they’d already won in court.”

After the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service previously allowed Idaho and Montana to hunt wolves, recalled Chaney, “A coalition of 14 environmental groups sued in 2009 to keep wolves under federal protection, arguing the agency couldn’t manage free-ranging wolves by state boundaries. They also claimed state management plans didn’t
allow enough wolves to keep the population healthy. Molloy agreed in August 2010, saying it was illegal to put Montana’s and Idaho’s wolves under state control while keeping Wyoming’s wolves under federal protection.”

Agreeing to the settlement were Cascadia Wildlands, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Hells Canyon Preservation Council, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oregon Wild, the Sierra Club, and the Wildlands Network. Opposed were the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater, and the Western Watersheds Project.

The 14th coalition member, the Humane Society of the U.S., “was not listed on either side,” Chaney noted. “Both sides of the coalition said congressional meddling was a motivator to reach a deal. Montana Representative Denny Rehberg has introduced a bill to remove wolves from any endangered species protection, while U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus put a rider in the government budget bill that would reinstate the 2009 delisting decision.
Neither measure has been acted on yet.”

“If that’s a settlement,” responded Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral, “how bad could losing the lawsuit be? At least one could say they objected to the ruling and would get back to wrangling with Congress. Friends of Animals will stand firm for wolves, and the biocommunities of Yellowstone and the Northern Rockies,” Feral pledged. “We support wolves roaming free from Alaska across the northern U.S. border to the southern border and beyond. And to our members and supporters who do not support the products of animal agribusiness,” Feral added, “thank you for your big-picture awareness. Rather than pay to compensate and appease ranchers for losses by predation, you help us to erode the competition over land.”

Said WildEarth Guardians executive director John Horning, “The multitude of species affected when bad legal precedent is set results in a loss for all of us. If wolves are sacrificed for politics, who’s next? Grizzly bears? Polar bears? Prairie dogs?” The settlement came a week after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery 2010 Interagency Annual Report. Wolf predation on the five million cattle and half million sheep inhabiting the Yellowstone region dropped to about 200 cattle and 250 sheep, down from 454 cattle and 776 sheep in 2009.

Unimak wolves

In Alaska, meanwhile, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on March 7, 2011 dropped a recommendation that wolves should be killed to limit predation on the Unimak Island caribou herd in Western Alaska.

“The Fish & Wildlife Service said the science just doesn’t support a wolf kill at this time,” wrote Craig Medred of the Alaska Dispatch. “The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has lobbied for a wolf hunt, saying it is one of the few ways to increase the size of the caribou herd. Wolf control would have provided more caribou for subsistence hunters,” of whom fewer than 50 inhabit Unimak Island, ‘but with impacts upon both the natural diversity and wilderness character of Unimak Island,’ the press release said.”

Merritt Clifton
P.O. Box 960
Clinton, WA 98236