Indigenous tribes near Yellowstone National Park have culled a record-breaking number of bison after an unusually harsh winter forced the animals out of the park in search of less challenging climates and food.
Over the last four months, state and federal officials at Yellowstone National Park have sanctioned the culling of the 6,000 member herd of bison that currently call the park home after heavy snows caused the animals to migrate out of the park’s boundaries, The New York Times reported. The culling was seen as a necessity as 60% of the herd carries brucellosis, an infectious disease that can affect both people and livestock.
“It’s probably the single-most challenging wildlife issue in Yellowstone,” Cam Sholly, the park superintendent, told The New York Times. “The bison is the only species we constrain to a boundary.”
A record-breaking number of bison have been culled in Yellowstone National Park — including hundreds of pregnant females. The hunt was intended to keep the animals from spreading a disease to livestock. But its scope has generated opposition. https://t.co/35Fqb70yDo
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 4, 2023
Once the bison cross out of the national park boundary, they become the responsibility of the state. Due to treaties that bestow rights to the buffalo to Native American tribes, members of Nez Perce, Blackfeet, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Northern Arapaho, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Crow and Shoshone-Bannock Tribes answered the call to cull nearly 1,100 bison, the outlet reported. (RELATED: Thirteen Bison Dead After Being Struck By Semi-Truck Near Yellowstone)
“It’s a very cultural and spiritual endeavor and brings our families together,” Jeremy Red Star Wolf, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, told The New York Times. “And it gives us an opportunity to talk about who we are and where we come from.”
In addition to the 1,100 culled by indigenous tribes, another 90 bison were shipped to slaughter houses, 75 were killed by other hunters, and additional 285 were sent to a quarantine site to determine if they carried brucellosis.
While the culling effort has been a meaningful cultural experience for Native Americans, critics believe the culling has little to do with concern over brucellosis. They argue that many livestock herds are immunized against the disease, that it is also known to be carried by elk, the outlet reported.
“It’s hard to claim bison are presenting an imminent threat to livestock while thousands of brucellosis-infected elk are literally side-by-side with livestock in the Paradise Valley and there is no strategy to manage that interface,” Sholly conceded to the New York Times.
Bradley De Groot, the brucellosis program veterinarian for the state’s livestock department, argued that the reason bison are considered more of a risk is because bison have a much higher rate of infection for the disease than do elk. Bison also tend to graze in similar places to cattle, so the potential for transmission is also higher, he told the New York Times.
Still, the culling has raised concerns with at least two environmental groups. One such group, the Buffalo Field Campaign, protested the ban on bison migration onto federal land in Montana. “They are killing one-quarter of the herd,” Mike Mease, a founder of the organization, told The New York Times. “That is insanity.”