Yellowstone National Park rangers and Montana game wardens killed 41 park bison grazing on ranch land about 200 yards from the park’s boundary on Thursday.
The bison were shot in a 10-minute fusillade shortly after dawn. About 60 South Dakota Indians, mostly Oglala Sioux, stood by to field-dress the carcasses and take the meat back to their reservations.
So far this winter, 109 Yellowstone bison have been killed after leaving the park’s sanctuary in search of food. About 200 more bison are near the park boundary and expected to leave its safety soon.
The shooting is reminiscent of the winter of 1989, when 569 bison were killed by hunters after leaving the park. The slaughter sparked protests from animal-rights groups and threats of a tourist boycott.
Since then, the park’s bison population has nearly doubled to more than 4,000, which most scientists say is greater than the grazing capacity.
Bison are killed when they leave the park seeking winter forage for fear they will spread the disease brucellosis to Montana cattle herds. Brucellosis causes spontaneous abortions in cattle and undulant fever in humans.
The ability of the disease to spread from bison to cattle has been confirmed in the lab but not in the wild, and the likelihood of infection is hotly contested by some animalrights and environmental groups.
But three states require testing or quarantine of Montana cattle entering their borders simply based on the possibility that the bison have spread the disease.
Not all the bison leaving the park are killed. Some are allowed to wander freely, if they pose no threat to cattle or to private property.”It’s a desert almost,” Lewis said. “You can see why they’re moving out - to find forage.”
The killing brought expressions of anger and disgust even from some participants, who said legal constraints prevent them from managing the animals in other ways.
Mark Heckert of the Inter-Tribal Bison Cooperative, a group of 34 tribes that want to use excess Yellowstone bison as seed animals for tribal herds, said Indians consider the way the bison were killed Thursday as disrespectful.
“We’re doing this under protest, and on condition that they are working toward live removal,” he said. But the U.S. Agriculture Department opposes the live removal.