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Yellowstone Area Landowners: Leave The Buffalo Alone

Buffalo Field Campaign and Horse Butte landowners seek increased tolerance for bison in cattle-free zone outside western boundary of Yellowstone National Park
March 4, 2008
West Yellowstone, MT —

A coalition of bison advocates and local landowners today called on federal and state officials to stop capturing and slaughtering Yellowstone bison in a cattle-free zone outside the western park boundary pending a review of options to give bison more room to roam in the Horse Butte area.

 

"The government has been killing our nation's last remaining wild bison, claiming it is necessary to prevent the spread of brucellosis to cattle on the Horse Butte peninsula," said Michael Mease, campaign coordinator for the Buffalo Field Campaign. "There are no more cattle on Horse Butte, so that excuse rings hollow. It's about time the people in charge get behind the locals who support wild bison being on Horse Butte without harassment by the government."

Horse Butte is a peninsula consisting of federal and private land that extends westward from the west boundary of Yellowstone National Park into Hebgen Lake. The peninsula is surrounded on its north, west, and south sides by the lake. Yellowstone bison typically migrate to the area in late winter and spring seeking forage that they need to survive the harsh winter conditions of the Yellowstone plateau. However, the bison are met by state and federal officials operating a bison trap that has already been used this winter to ship 30 wild bison to slaughter. Another 430 buffalo have been trapped and sent to slaughter outside the north entrance to Yellowstone near Gardiner, Montana.

Recent land management changes have entirely eliminated cattle grazing from the Horse Butte peninsula. A court order stopped cattle grazing on a national forest grazing allotment on Horse Butte in 2002. Last year, new owners purchased the sole remaining cattle grazing operation on the peninsula, removed the cattle and declared their property open to Yellowstone bison.

Those purchasers, Rob and Janae Galanis, are among 39 Horse Butte landowners who joined the Buffalo Field Campaign in calling for a halt to the capture and slaughter of bison on Horse Butte given the complete absence of cattle from the area year-round.

"When we purchased the Munns Ranch, one of our goals for the property was to willingly remove the last cattle from the Butte. However, yearly cattle grazing on the ranch has kept the grasses down, which has helped deter potential grass fires on both the ranch and the Butte and has also kept down the spreading of noxious weeds," said Rob Galanis. "For these reasons, we believe the ranch must continue to have a grazing component, which we hope to achieve naturally by allowing the bison to continue migrating out of Yellowstone National Park and on the ranch, as they have historically always migrated. To help achieve this goal we renamed the ranch 'The Yellowstone Ranch Preserve' (the YRP) and posted the YRP as a 'Bison Safe Zone' to create a sanctuary for bison activity. In order to achieve this goal the hazing and slaughter of bison by the Department of Livestock on the Butte must cease."

The bison advocates submitted their request to federal and state officials in the form of a letter written on their behalf by the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice. The letter asks the officials to stop capturing and killing Yellowstone's bison and to initiate a new environmental impact study to assess changes to an Interagency Bison Management Plan in light of the changed circumstances on Horse Butte.

"The government promised the public an adaptive management plan for bison; now it is time for them to adapt their management," said Earthjustice lawyer Tim Preso. "The government's bison plan was created at a time when cattle grazed across much of Horse Butte every summer. Now that the cattle are gone the plan needs to be changed to become more tolerant of Yellowstone's iconic bison."

The bison advocates noted that, in addition to its unnecessarily brutal treatment of bison, the government's continued implementation of aggressive bison management is a waste of taxpayer dollars. State and local governments spend more than $2 million each year to haze, capture, and slaughter Yellowstone bison in the interest of an ever smaller group of livestock operations outside park boundaries.

"The government is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to protect cattle that aren't even here," said Mease. "It doesn't make sense and it is no way to manage some of our nation's most revered wildlife. The bison slaughter on Horse Butte should stop."

Background:

Horse Butte Peninsula is 24,000 acres of wildlife rich habitat, located north of West Yellowstone, Montana. Native bison migrate from the Yellowstone Plateau following the Madison River winter in the upper Madison Valley. In spring time, pregnant females seek out early green-up on Horse Butte to calve. Consisting of mainly Gallatin National Forest lands, Horse Butte is also home to a small village of residents who generally support wild bison in their neighborhood.

Horse Butte is prime calving habitat for the Yellowstone buffalo, as the peninsula has south-facing slopes that green up early in the spring.  A diversity of plant and wildlife species, and habitat types, occupy the peninsula. Hebgen Lake and riparian wetlands along the Madison River provide habitat for trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, bald and golden eagles, and moose. Grizzly bear, grey wolf, elk, black bear, and coyote also make their home there, as would bison but for government hazing, capture and slaughter operations.

Bison attempting to migrate to Horse Butte in the winter are met by state and federal agents carrying out a lethal control program that is ostensibly aimed at protecting domestic cattle from the theoretical threat of infection with a disease, brucellosis, that is carried by some wild bison. Transmission of brucellosis from bison to cattle has never been documented in the wild, and bison and cattle generally are not in the park boundary area at the same time -- bison seek to use the area in winter and early spring, and cattle are trucked in for summer grazing.  Nevertheless, for the sake of a small number of cattle grazing operations in boundary areas, agents use helicopters, snowmobiles, off-road vehicles, and motorcycles to haze bison that leave the western Park boundary. Agents capture those bison that do not flee from this hazing and test them for exposure to brucellosis; those testing positive are shipped to slaughter. During winters, such as the current winter, when the Yellowstone bison population exceeds 3,000 animals, agents are authorized to capture and ship to slaughter all bison leaving the west park boundary, without testing any for exposure to brucellosis. Agents shoot bison that cannot be hazed or captured.

Read the letter to the agencies (PDF)

Horse Butte

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Contacts

Timothy Preso, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699
Michael Mease, Buffalo Field Campaign, (406) 646-0070

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.