CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Yellowstone National Park has proposed using air rifles to vaccinate bison to try to reduce the chance the animals could infect cattle with brucellosis, which causes wildlife and livestock to abort their young.
Bison and elk in the Yellowstone region carry brucellosis and about half of the bison in Yellowstone are believed to have been exposed to the bacterial disease.
Yellowstone is seeking public comments over the next two months on a plan to use air rifles to shoot bison with projectiles carrying brucellosis vaccine.
The plan has been in the works for years and would join ongoing efforts to prevent bison that leave northern Yellowstone from spreading brucellosis to cattle.
“We recognize this is a unique approach. We have a unique set of circumstances here in the park,” Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said Friday.
No case of bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle actually has been documented in the wild. Elk, not bison, have been implicated in the smattering of brucellosis cases in cattle in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho in recent years.
Even so, more than 3,000 bison from Yellowstone have been slaughtered over the past decade to keep them away from cattle in Montana. That included a record 1,600 bison in 2008, the last year bison were killed in large numbers.
Montana livestock agents continue to haze bison that wander out of northern Yellowstone to get the animals back into the park. They use helicopters, all-terrain vehicles and riders on horseback to shoo the furry, lumbering — and sometimes testy — beasts back across the park boundary.
Yellowstone staff using syringes already vaccinate some bison following the animals’ capture at a facility near Gardiner, Mont. The Park Service said shooting bison with vaccine projectiles would make more bison resistant to brucellosis and make bison more tolerable to cattle ranchers on lands north of Yellowstone.
“We certainly look forward to increased tolerance for bison out of the park boundaries,” Nash said.
A draft environmental study proposes three options: Continuing the current syringe vaccinations, adding air-rifle vaccinations for young bison that aren’t pregnant, or doing both and adding air-rifle vaccinations for adult female bison.
A Montana Department of Livestock spokesman said his agency had yet to review the options but intends to submit comments on them to the Park Service.
“We don’t really have much to say about it right now,” Steve Merritt said.
An environmental group opposed to hazing and slaughtering bison also opposes vaccinating bison, pointing out that Yellowstone bison originally caught brucellosis from cattle.
“We feel if there’s any vaccinating to be done, then the cattle industry should be developing a vaccine that works for cattle and use it on cattle,” said Stephany Seay, spokeswoman for the Buffalo Field Campaign.
The Park Service is planning three upcoming public meetings in Montana on the draft proposal: June 14 in Bozeman, June 15 in Helena and June 16 in Malta. Public comments on the plan are due by midnight on July 26.
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