At least 80 Yellowstone National Park bison are now trapped in government corrals. Hundreds more will soon follow suit and be sent to slaughter.
The National Park Service says Yellowstone’s total bison population now stands at about 5,500. That’s almost twice as much as the population target established by the Interagency Bison Management Plan 16 years ago. In short, there are too many bison in too small an area.
Park spokeswoman Jody Lyle:
"Our biologists tell us that removing 900 animals from the population this year would keep us at a static level. If we remove perhaps up to 1,300 animals, then that starts to decrease the population."
Bison migrate from the park to Montana each winter in search of forage. If it’s a mild winter, not many of the animals may go where they could be captured.
But it’s been a cold, snowy winter so far in Yellowstone according to Stephany Seay of the bison advocacy group the Buffalo Field Campaign.
"Wild Bison are a native wildlife species," Seay says. "They’re ecologically extinct throughout their native range. This is now our national mammal. They have a right to roam these lands. There’s no Brucellosis threat from wild bison."
Brucellosis is why the park captures bison and Montana allows them to be hunted when they wander outside the park. It can cause disease in humans, and the livestock industry fears bison will infect cattle. But critics point out there's never been a documented case of wild bison transmitting Brucellosis to domestic cattle.
Last summer three conservation groups, including the Buffalo Field Campaign, sued to force the government to determine whether Yellowstone bison are a threatened or endangered species. That case is still pending.