Four bison bulls were captured inside Yellowstone National Park Saturday and sent to slaughter at a Montana packing plant, a park official confirmed.
Chief Ranger Dan Sholly said the action was taken in compliance with an interim bison management plan as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the state of Montana.
A spokeswoman for the Fund for Animals said the action was illegal.
“We are so terribly upset because the operation is taking place on the inside of the park,” said Andrea Lococo, the fund’s Rocky Mountain coordinator in Jackson, Wyo.
“We are convinced the action not only violates federal law but also agency management directives that there is absolutely no scientific justification for the action given that bulls pose no risk of bacterial transmission,” she said.
Some bison within Yellowstone carry the infectious disease brucellosis, which causes domestic cattle to abort. The new capture facility is six miles northwest of Gardiner, inside the park boundary, and is part of an effort to keep bison from spreading the disease into Montana.
“When the bison approach the capture facility area is when they become part of the interim plan,” Sholly said. He confirmed the bulls did not leave the park but said in that area the goal is to prevent them from leaving and wandering onto private land.
He said the animals were penned and the state of Montana was taking them to a slaughter facility in Sheridan. It will be up to the state to determine whether the meat should be donated to Indian tribes or sold, Sholly said.
“Certainly we are concerned about the lack of scientific evidence about the transmission of brucellosis (by bulls),” he said.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Sholly said. “We would prefer not to be in this business, but at this point we are partners with the state and we are carrying out the plan as directed by the courts.”
The fund’s Lococo accused the Park Service of shirking its role as steward of wildlife in Yellowstone and instead becoming the executioner of bison. She also said the park ultimately was at fault for doubling Yellowstone’s bison population.
“We want to look very closely at snowmobile grooming because we believe the grooming of the trails has provided easy access for these animals to leave the park and is responsible that the population is probably double the size it would be if bison were not able to use the energy efficient trails,” Lococo said.
Sholly said it probably is true the snowmobile trails have enhanced the ability of bison to leave Yellowstone and adjusting the use of snowmobiles within the park may be looked at later.
For now, he said, “snowmobile use will remain as it is, the trail system as it is.”