Friday, March 11, 2011

Montana and Federal Officials Negotiating Buffer Zones for Yellowstone Bison

Bison family near a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park

The Yellowstone National Park is one of the best wild places to look for some of America's most extraordinary wildlife. One of the prime attractions there is the American bison. This majestic creature, nicknamed "buffalo" by local people, has been the icon of the American West for generations. However, it was severely slaughtered at a mass scale during the 19th century by early European settlers. With less numbers of these wild relatives of cattle scattered across the western U.S, desperate measures were taken in order to revive their populations. This included establishing various national parks, and Yellowstone was one of them. Since its establishment in 1876, Yellowstone has become a haven for wild bison to roam free without the fear of being further butchered. And as a result, its population grew steadily. But in recent times, there had been numerous reports of these shaggy beasts migrating north of Yellowstone each winter in search of drier pastures for fresh food. This behavior brought them into close contact with cattle ranchers, who fear the animals could infect their livestock with brucellosis, a disease which causes a cow to abort its fetus. However, this is all about to change as Montana and federal officials are in talks of proposing to open a large area consisting of buffer zones north of Yellowstone for the bison to occupy during winter months. According to Chris Mackay, Executive Director for Montana Department of Livestock, the details of the plan could be planned out as soon as next week. This plan has been promoted by conservation group and wildlife agencies for years, but refused by ranchers and livestock groups--until now.

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is also in favor of the plan, knowing that it would be a better alternative after ordering a 90-day ban on slaughtering the animals that migrate beyond the national park's boundaries. Yellowstone has even promised to release some bison that have tested negative for brucellosis this spring. As of now, no decisions have been made for those that were tested positive. According to Governor Schweitzer and other officials, the north side buffer stretches roughly 13 miles north of Yellowstone, consisting of the Gardiner Basin and ending at the Yankee Jim Canyon along the Yellowstone River. Mr. Mackay, however, stated that the place would be used to accommodate additional animals that migrate. He further added that fences and other barriers will be erected at the canyon's mouth to prevent the animals from entering Paradise Valley, which has several cattle ranches. The second buffer zone suggested by Governor Schweitzer was in the Madison River Valley, stretching twenty miles west of Yellowstone to Quake Lake. Unfortunately, the area was not included in the discussions.

I'm very happy to see what state and federal officials are planning, regarding Yellowstone's bison. For the past twenty years, these powerful creatures were seen migrating outside the national park and into Montana. Many ended up being shot and slaughtered by livestock agents, and some were rounded up back into the park. But now, there appears to be a new and safer alternative to tackle this problem. The first effort in carving out a new habitat for the bison ended in failure. 25 animals were brought to a 2500-acre patch Gallatin National Forest. But within weeks, they left the forest before government officials returned them back to Yellowstone. However, this new plan will cover an area roughly 25,000 acres, according to Mark Pearson of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. This could mean that bison will not end up wondering into unknown pieces of land which could be inhabited by humans. This article tells me that all the people, who are taking the initiative in providing a better solution for both ranchers and bison, are studying the animals' behavior closely and keeping track of their migratory routes as they search for fresh pastures to graze. I'm also very happy to see what Yellowstone's Superintendent Daniel Wenk recently stated during a meeting in the capital city of Helena. Which was to include parts of the national park after Governor Schweitzer proclaimed to allow hunting to keep the bison population in check. It was a very bold move, since it is said that many of Yellowstone's bison are genetically pure. However, I personally feel that the bison numbers can be kept in balance with wolves in place. Elsewhere in the nation, wolves have been receiving a bad press for livestock predation and their have been several attempts to de-list them as endangered species. I think one possible solution would be to bring the wolves in this area where there are bison. That way, the population of these gigantic creatures will be in balance and there would not be any livestock predation.

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