Washington, DC — Although it is the official symbol for the U.S. Department of Interior, the American bison is treated worse than any other species of wildlife in the national park system, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Buffalo Field Campaign. This year, more than one in five members of the nation’s largest remaining “free-roaming” herd, located within Yellowstone National Park, will be killed – by slaughter, hazing and maiming – as a result of federal action.
Despite the official policy to “protect and maintain a wild, free roaming population of Yellowstone bison,” the grim reality is that no other native wildlife is subjected to official eradication efforts on the scale that is occurring within Yellowstone. While most of the bison deaths are deliberate (such as shipping animals to commercial slaughterhouses), others, such as gorings from crowding too many bison into inadequate corrals, are purposeless and preventable.
“Chipmunks in New York’s Central Park get more consideration and protection than the bison in Yellowstone,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, calling Interior’s bison management policy “a universally acknowledged travesty. The fact that Interior uses the bison as its official symbol adds the insult of misleading advertising to the injury of mass mayhem.”
According to Stephany Seay of the bison advocacy group Buffalo Field Campaign, “Park Rangers have no right wearing buffalo on their badges as they haze, capture and slaughter the very buffalo they're entrusted with protecting, America’s last wild herd.”
Under Interior’s bison management policy, so far this year—
- 849 park bison have been sent to slaughter by the park, including scores of calves;
- Nearly 90 wild bison calves have been sent by the Park Service to a state-federal bison quarantine facility where they will suffer domestication and more than half will be slaughtered;
- Several more bison died while being “hazed” into holding areas. This January, for example, nearly 50 bison were driven onto thin ice, fourteen fell through and two drowned. In another incident, six bison died from overheating after a botched netting operation associated with the brucellosis program; and;
- Bison are injured and killed from wounds due to cramming testy animals into corrals not designed for buffalo. Bison are slashed, gored and trampled as they are run into pens with sharp corners, blind stops and exposed metal edges.
During the brutal Yellowstone winter, the park’s bison seek to migrate out of the park in search of food. But because the Interior Department has not secured access to winter range for the bison, hundreds are captured on their trek while the rest are chased back into the park. Altogether, park officials captured 938 bison out of an estimated 4,900 in the park. This past month, Yellowstone crammed 400 bison into a corral with a maximum capacity of 200.
Despite the stream of injuries to the animals, the park has spent no money to expand or fix the inadequate holding facilities but the federal government has spent more than $180,000 this year to capture bison and receives millions more to implement the interagency agreement with Montana to prevent bison from coming into contact with cattle. The Interagency Bison Management Plan costs U.S. taxpayers $3 million each year, funds that would be more wisely spent on the acquisition of winter range along with cattle-based risk management efforts.
At the request of Yellowstone Park’s own employees who are appalled by what one calls “biological malpractice,” PEER and the Buffalo Field Campaign have started a drive to remove the bison as the official seal for the Interior Department and are enlisting public involvement in suggesting a substitute symbol for the agency.