Yellowstone was the world’s first National Park, and is the only place in the US where bison have been grazing since pre-historic times. The Yellowstone National Park Service recently decided that the bison won’t be shot by the proposed bio-bullet vaccines.
Preserving the species is of utmost importance for Yellowstone, which has seen the bison population rise to around 4,000, split into two herds. The bison were once on the brink of extinction in the park, so the fact that their numbers have seen a rise there is promising.
March 3, saw the Yellowstone Park Services scrap the controversial plans to have the bison shot with a vaccine for brucellosis, a disease that can cause miscarriage in infected animals. Around half of the bison could have been exposed to the disease, but the bio-bullet will not be used due to the lack of scientific evidence supporting it.
The Park Service estimated the bio-bullet method of inoculation to cost around $30 million over the course of 30 years, and Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said that there would be “no significant benefit to bison conservation.”
The plan would have seen a vaccination administered using a shot from a pellet gun, which would lodge under the bison’s skin, and dissolve. The method has proven successful within Elk population in Yellowstone, but skeptics are unsure whether bio-bullets would penetrate the thick hides of the bison.
Yellowstone bison have always caused significant problems for the Park Services, who have to manage the herds as they migrate around the park. The decision to allow the herds to avoid the bio-bullet was criticized by the Montana Department of Livestock, but was for the most part supported by councils, tribes, and the scientific panels.
The problems of managing the bison does not end with brucellosis and migration. The Park Services also have to deal with a threat that has nearly driven the bison to extinction in the past. Yellowstone National Park bison won’t be shot by the bio-bullet, but they are under constant threat from the gunfire of poachers.
A federal law first made illegal the killing of animals inside Yellowstone National Park in 1894, following an incident where a man shot dead three bison. In the early 1900’s the herds of bison were hunted down to numbers as low as 50. The threat was so severe the US army stood guard, protecting the remaining animals from poachers.
Now the growing bison population is subject to regulated hunting, and some were also contracted by Montana for slaughter, meat for both contract haulers and tribes. As a result the population of bison this winter was reduced from 4,600, to 4,000, in a controlled manner.
Although the illegal shooting of bison is reportedly infrequent, three were recently killed at the side of a road, somewhere between March 13, and March 15. The report is a grim reminder that the threat of the poacher is still very real. Yellowstone Chief Ranger Tim Reid says that a $5,000 reward is up for offer to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest of the poachers, and expressed the significance of protecting the bison.
The preservation of the prehistoric species is an ongoing and delicate process. Handling the bison is no easy feat for Yellowstone National Park, and though they won’t be shot by the bio-bullet, they still need to be protected from poachers.
By Matthew Warburton