BILLINGS – Wildlife advocates on Thursday asked a federal judge in Montana to stop the impending slaughter of many of the hundreds of bison captured this week as they attempted to migrate out of Yellowstone National Park.
The request for a temporary injunction and restraining order would prevent the National Park Service and other federal agencies from shipping to slaughter bison that test positive for exposure to the disease brucellosis. Those shipments were expected to begin this week.
More than 300 bison left the snowed-in park in recent days in search of food at lower elevations. They were turned back by park workers and state livestock agents to prevent any contact between bison and livestock, which could lead to the spread of brucellosis.
The disease causes cattle, bison and some other animals to prematurely abort their young. Roughly half of the Yellowstone’s estimated 3,900 bison have been exposed to the disease, although the rate of active infection is lower.
But there have been no recorded cattle-to-bison brucellosis transmissions, and few cattle remain in the immediate vicinity of the park. Wildlife advocates said those conditions should allow government agencies to ease their restrictions on where bison can move.
“The Park Service is violating their mission to allow natural regulation” of bison, said Glenn Hockett with the Gallatin Wildlife Association, one of the plaintiffs in the federal case. “The alternative to slaughter that they’ve ignored is habitat.”
The case is before U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell in Helena. Lovell also was asked to close down the park’s Stephens Creek capture facility — the corrals where the 300-plus bison are being held for disease testing.
Park officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Other plaintiffs in the case include the Buffalo Field Campaign, Western Watersheds Project, Native Ecosystems Council, Tatanka Oyate and several individuals.
A spokesman for the Montana Stockgrowers Association said the livestock group is tracking the case and remains wary of any move to expand where bison can roam outside Yellowstone.
Jay Bodner, the association’s director of natural resources, said cattle producers whose animals are infected with brucellosis can face economic losses if buyers are not willing to pay as much for their animals.
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