Hundreds of bison from Yellowstone National Park are in danger of being slaughtered and their fate rests in the hands of a federal judge.
The bison are a part of America’s last continuously wild herd, and due to harsh winter conditions have strayed from the safe haven of Yellowstone in search of food. The animals are prohibited from leaving the park because they are seen as a threat to local livestock since many bison are carriers of brucellosis, a disease that officials say could cause cattle to abort their calves.
Wildlife officials have corralled the animals and have begun testing them for the disease. So far 53 of the bison have tested positive and are slated for slaughter.
A coalition of conservation groups, Native Americans and Montanans filed a motion to Judge Charles Lovell last week to stop the slaughter, arguing that officials have failed to pursue the goals of federal and state bison management, which is "to ensure the wild and free-ranging nature of American bison." Additionally, the groups say that government land managers are violating the public trust by chasing, confining and killing Yellowstone’s wild bison.
Conservation groups argue that no bison-to-cattle brucellosis transmissions have ever been recorded and the policy of slaughtering bison with the disease favors the livestock industry, which doesn’t want bison to be given priority over cattle to graze on public rangelands.
An estimated 3,800 bison have been killed since 2000 under a government-sponsored capture and slaughter program over the risk of spreading brucellosis to local livestock.
The Yellowstone bison population is the last great herd of genetically pure buffalo whose numbers once ranged in the millions until they were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century. Bison are herbivores and still follow migratory instincts that help restore the native grasslands of the Great Plains. Unfortunately, prairie ecosystems, like the bison, are also endangered.