National Park Service (NPS) regional director, Sue Masica, rejected a plan to remotely vaccinate Yellowstone’s wild bison against brucellosis. Yellowstone National Park will not be targeting their bison with vaccine laden biobullets shot from air guns. The wild bison, while not either threatened nor endangered, are still considered to be rarities due to the fact that they are the some of the only surviving ancestors of the wild plains bison. There has been an ongoing issue between Yellowstone National Park and Montana’s agribusiness regarding the wild bison.
Ranchers believe that Yellowstone’s bison may infect their herds with brucellosis, a disease which may cause cattle to spontaneously abort, among other issues. While Yellowstone bison were ironically infected by domesticated cattle back in 1917, the wild bison appear to have developed a natural immunity to the disease. The domestic herds, however, do not share that same immunity. While there are no documented cases of wild bison infecting the domestic livestock, Montana’s ranchers continue to be apprehensive about the possible infection.
The concerns of the ranchers surrounding Yellowstone prompted the approval and legalization of a slaughter and capture program back in 2000. The agreement allows for Yellowstone bison populations to be limited to approximately 3,000 to 3,500 animals. This year saw the killing of 522 bison with an additional 60 animals being caught and shipped to a research facility. Due to the further concern of brucellosis, Yellowstone National Park had been considering a plan to remotely vaccinate the wild bison by targeting and shooting them with biobullets but the plan will not be implemented.
The current Interagency Bison Management Plan calls for biologists to vaccinate those bison captured by using hand syringes. The plan to use air guns to remotely vaccinate the bison was rejected for a number of reasons. One of the reasons for the plan’s denial was over concern for how the bison would respond both behaviorally and physiologically. Additionally, experts indicate that there is a high possibility that Yellowstone’s elk would re-infect the bison, rendering the vaccination attempt mostly null. The vaccination itself lacks effectiveness and the remote method of delivery was deemed unreliable.
Perhaps the largest consideration in the plan’s rejection was the cost factor. The cost was estimated in the range of $300,000 to $500,000 annually with the vaccinations having to continue indefinitely. Spokesman Al Nash was not convinced that the remote vaccination was a good idea. He states the same concerns about effectiveness and successful delivery. Nash also said that over a 30-year period there would be millions of taxpayer dollars spent for a questionably small return in the reduction of brucellosis in the wild bison. While the current plan for remote vaccination was denied, Nash indicates that this decision will have no bearing on the annual bison hunting or herd management and reduction.
The decision to not target the Yellowstone bison with the vaccine-laden biobullets came after a 30-day public review. The record of decision was signed on March 3 and effectively vetoes the idea of the controversial and expensive remote vaccination program. Director Masica officially completed the impact process and has restated and outlined the current hand-vaccination plan of those female yearlings and calves that migrate out of the northern boundary of the park in the winter. Montana Department of Livestock representatives have stated that they were disappointed to learn of the decision to not pursue remote vaccinations.
By Dee Mueller
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