Yesterday in Congress the first hearings in many years were held over bison management in and near Yellowstone Park. The hearing showed that pressure is building to -change the many years of bison harassment and slaughter by the state of Montana and stance of the federal government agency APHIS which uses the club of losing “brucellosis-free” status to keep the bison slaughter/bison confinement program going.
I was able to listen the part of the hearings via audio webcast on the Internet. Although I have been writing about the bison situation since 1996, the hearings told me I had underestimated one aspect of the long controversy — political partisanship. I had located core of opposition to a more rational and more humane bison management program to Montana livestock industry’s attempt to maintain cultural hegemony, but I underestimated the role of the Republican Party.
Testimony on all sides of the issue were given, but the hearing was quite friendly to change on the bison range. However, the most bison hostile testimony was made by Montana’s lone House member Republican Denny Rehberg. Rehberg used essentially every argument ever made against free ranging Yellowstone bison, including even such canards as brucellosis is a potential terrorist agent similar to anthrax.
Although he gave no formal testimony, the committee’s ranking minority member, Republican Rob Bishop of Utah, also struck a very hostile tone.
Montana’s popular Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer was most cleaver [oops 😉 While he made the traditional bows to things such as Montana’s brucellosis free status, he portrayed the current management was one that wasted taxpayer dollars. These monies could be used instead to vaccinate the several hundred cattle the remain in the Greater Yellowstone area where bison might roam and to buy out the cattle grazing.
One aspect that amused me was the continual reference to Idaho and Wyoming losing their brucellosis free status. Probably more was said at the hearing about Idaho losing its status, than has been written by the Idaho media about the matter over the entire history of its loss. It has been a non-story in Idaho, showing just how unimportant is brucellosis-free status.
As usual, there was little recognition of what keeps the brucellosis infection going. It has nothing to do with Yellowstone Park or Yellowstone bison. It is the winter feeding of elk south of the Park in Wyoming where brucellosis infection rates are much higher than inside Yellowstone Park, and where the bulk of the transmission takes place.
Here is the story in the Jackson Hole Star Tribune. How to manage park bison? By Noelle Struab. Jackson Hole Star-Tribune Washington bureau.