With more than 700 of Yellowstone National Park’s bison already dead, the governor of Montana has asked President Clinton to stop the slaughter.
“These are America’s bison, Mr. President. Get involved,” Gov. Marc Racicot said Thursday. “This is a federal problem.”
Under a state-federal agreement, the bison are either shot or captured and tested for brucellosis, a disease which causes cattle to abort their young. Animals testing positive for the disease are shipped to slaughterhouses.
The program was implemented to keep the park bison, half of which are believed infected with brucellosis, from spreading the disease to Montana cattle herds.
But with unusually deep, ice-crusted snow blanketing the park, large numbers of bison have been migrating from Yellowstone in search of forage, prompting a record death toll of 703. The deaths surpass the previous record of 569 set in the winter of 1988-89.
Only Clinton has the authority to order two federal agencies involved in managing the bison to find an alternative to killing the animals, said Racicot, a Republican.
Brian Johnson, a spokesman for the White House environmental office, said the administration has asked the federal agencies to work with the state to find a way to slow the slaughter.
“We started this process Jan. 17 by calling on the state to refrain from killing or at least curtail the killing of bison,” he said.
Racicot said Montana is caught between the National Park Service, which has a policy of not managing wildlife within parks, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. That agency has threatened to withdraw the state’s brucellosis-free status if infected bison are allowed into the state.
Racicot said Clinton should order the two agencies to develop a program for shipping captured bison testing negative for brucellosis to a quarantine facility, rather than to slaughter.
The president also should order the park service to manage bison before they leave the park and launch a program to eradicate brucellosis from the Yellowstone herd, Racicot said.
“Why in the name of God can’t we get this problem solved?” he said.
“Why do we have to wait until there is virtually no other option than to harvest those bison? That is just unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell put off a decision on a request by environmental groups to immediately halt the slaughter.
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