Thinkstock/Konstantin Grishin
Bison in Yellowstone National Park. Those that stray outside the northern borders in winter are liable to be scooped up and shipped to slaughter.

Yellowstone Bison Slaughter Over, Controversy Remains


The slaughter of bison in Yellowstone National Park has been declared finished for the year, but the controversy is far from over.

A season that saw acrimony erupt between two tribes, as well as the arrest and arraignment of a young activist, was topped off by a U.S. government study that said bison don’t have to be slaughtered to prevent the spread of brucellosis.

It has become something of an annual tradition: Bison seeking sustenance in deepest winter edge out of Yellowstone National Park’s northern border to forage in Montana where, ranchers say, the animals’ potential contamination with brucellosis threatens livestock. This year, at any rate, tribes got to take the buffalo and use the meat, hearkening back to traditions that pre-date the park or the presence of any ranchers. But many conservationists objected to one of the methods, which entailed the trucking of hundreds of bison to slaughterhouses, rather than hunting them.

“The problem isn’t with killing buffalo, it’s with indiscriminate killing of buffalo,” said Jim Stone, chairman of the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council, to the Billings Gazette. “The tribes have been opposed to a lot of what the park has done.”

What tribes would like to see, Stone said, is for disease-free calves to be transplanted to tribes that already have bison herds, with slaughter reserved for older bulls and cows only. Fifty-eight tribes in 19 states belong to the Tribal Buffalo Council, and 50 of those tribes maintain herds, the Billings Gazette said.

Earlier this month 20-year-old Comfrey Jacobs of Grand Junction, Colorado, was arrested after chaining himself for five hours to a 50-gallon, cement-filled drum in the middle of the road leading to a bison capture facility, the Billings Gazette reported on March 6. Though he did not slow down the process—three horse trailers laden with bison headed for slaughter rumbled by as authorities were cutting his chains—he was charged with disorderly conduct, breaking the area closure around the capture facility and interfering with government operations, the Gazette said. Arraigned on Tuesday March 11, Jacobs refused a plea bargain and will appear in court again on April 2, the Billings Gazette said.

The season was declared over on March 7 after about 600 bison had been removed in total, the Associated Press reported. Authorities told AP that 258 bison that had migrated outside the park had been captured and shipped to slaughter, while hunters had killed 264 or more, and 60 others had been put into an animal-contraception experiment.


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