BREAKING – According to today’s press release, forwarded to the Wildlife Conservation Examiner from PawsPR, up to 900 iconic and genetically important American Bison are slated for slaughter in an area of Yellowstone National Park that will, suspiciously, be closed to both the public and the media. Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is filing a federal lawsuit to lift the cloak of secrecy from this contentious action. This suit is being filed on behalf of journalist Christopher Ketcham and wild bison advocate Stephany Seay, who allege that such covert behavior around the penning and slaughter violates First Amendment rights and of guaranteed access to the public National park.
During bison roundups and hazing, cruel and controversial tactics are used. Apparently the Park Service feels a need to conduct these operations in secrecy rather than openly, no or very limited public and/or media access allowed. The release goes on to say “The centerpiece of the Park’s role in the slaughter is the Stephens Creek Capture Facility, which is located entirely within the national park. The bison are driven into the facility, held in pens, tested, and eventually forced into trucks and transported to slaughter.”
“I want full access to the operations,” Christopher Ketchum said, “so I can effectively report on the issue. I want to be able to see the suffering of these animals up close, and thus bring readers up close.” The release continues, “The lawsuit argues that the First Amendment guarantees citizens and journalists reasonable, non-disruptive access to the publicly funded national park. The National Park Service is scheduled to capture and facilitate the killing of up to 900 bison inside Yellowstone Park starting on February 15, 2016.”
Yellowstone bison sustain the last remaining bloodlines from our original free-roaming, wild and migratory herds, which had been hunted to virtual extinction during settlement of the west, and as such are considered rare and genetically valuable. A commendable massive effort was later undertaken through the Endangered Species Act to protect and gradually restore this charismatic American icon. This remnant pure population is so unique that there have been petitions from Western Watersheds Project and Buffalo Field Campaign with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list them under the Endangered Species Act. Yet now, the weight of the powerful cattle-lobby, seeking to take over public lands and National Parks for cheap grazing for their personal livestock, is being used to crush native bison, wolves, wild horses and other species out of existence. During the roundup and subsequent culling of hundreds of these genetically important animals, family groups and mother-calf bonds will be broken up, and genetic diversity and viability will be drastically reduced, all supposedly to protect domestic, non-native, invasive, privately-owned cattle from contracting brucellosis. Brucellosis is a non-fatal disease originally brought to this area by domestic European cattle and now spread by domestic cattle and elk, a fact that is being intentionally misrepresented by the powerful ranching lobby. Cattlemen claim our native wild bison herds can sicken privately-owned, for-profit animals that are being allowed to graze on public, tax-payer-funded federal lands, and which compete (catastrophically, with the help of our government) with native species the park is intended to protect.
According to The Wildlife News (November 13, 2014), “Once numbering tens of millions, there were fewer than 25 wild bison remaining in the remote interior of Pelican Valley in Yellowstone National Park at the turn of the 20th Century. The 1894 Lacey Act, the first federal law specifically safeguarding bison, protected these few survivors from extinction.” It is from these animals that the critical Yellowstone-area bison herds descend.
A fact sheet on why wild bison are threatened with extinction is available here.
Understandably, perhaps, the veil of secrecy might be to prevent the anticipated, massive public outcry, as private livestock, long the scourge of our native species and public lands, seem to be given preference over this majestic native we all, as taxpayers, have a vested interest in protecting for perpetuity. Especially considering the supreme importance of the Yellowstone population, of which the lead attorney from ALDF responded to the Wildlife Conservation Examiner’s inquiry with this statement:
“We allege in our complaint that the Yellowstone herd of bison are indeed genetically important, and unique, they are linked to the buffalo that used to roam the Great Plains before they were nearly slaughtered to extinction near the end of the 19th Century.”
For those who have never stood beside one of these amazing and statuesque beings, they may look like furry tanks, but there is warm breath and a beating heart in there. Behind the watchful eye there is bright awareness, intelligence, deep peace, a vibrant presence that is hard to convey in photographs. If you’ve ever stood just inches away from a wild bison, who can reach 5 or 6 feet at the shoulder yet can be faster and as agile as a horse, you’ve likely been moved by their intrinsic validity; the deliberate aliveness, imposing, hard yet covered in areas by fleecy wool; the strong social bonds, the way the herd, as an entity, moves, nurtures and protects its members. Once they have so touched you, chances are you will also be moved to defend their fundamental right to be. To be left alone, out on the plains where they have flourished for millennia.
For more information or to get involved, please contact Animal Legal Defense Fund, PawsPR, or visit Buffalo Field Campaign.