HELENA – Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis said Monday that vaccinating park bison should be part of the solution for brucellosis.
“Bison and brucellosis management are the most difficult issues facing Yellowstone National Park, its neighbors and its partners,” Lewis told the Montana Board of Livestock.
Most importantly, she said, diverse groups need to start working together on the problem.
Lewis said Monday that her appearance marked the first time a park superintendent was invited to a Montana Board of Livestock meeting.
Yellowstone bison have become a lightning rod in a fight among ranchers, park officials, environmentalists and hunters that often have their own ideas on management of regional wildlife.
Ranchers generally blame bison for carrying brucellosis, passing it to elk that migrate through cattle ranges. Montana ranchers recently lost their brucellosis-free status after it was found in two cattle herds within a year’s time.
Lewis said vaccinations of bison would help reduce incidence of the disease. That plan awaits an environmental impact statement due this year. Lewis said more research is needed to find a more effective wildlife vaccine.
And more range will be needed to allow bison to wander outside the park, which she envisions would allow increased hunting of the animal. She says hunting has proven to be an effective control of other wildlife, like elk.
At the same time, the disease – which originated in domestic livestock – would need to be controlled in elk. She said the park looks forward to working with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks on that issue.
Many hunters are quick to defend the free-ranging elk herds that sometimes cause problems for ranchers. Environmentalists often resist any tampering with the wild animals of Yellowstone.
Lewis recognized the diverse groups don’t agree on the solutions, or the extent of the problem, and said they have to “stop the rhetoric as much as possible.”
“The fighting hasn’t led to an acceptable solution,” she said. “We have a lot of mistrust on this issue, perhaps understandably.”