No Need for Buffalo Body Count: New Brucellosis Rules Should Force Adaption of Yellowstone Bison Management

For Immediate Release


Josh Mogerman, 312-651-7909

No Need for Buffalo Body Count: New Brucellosis Rules Should Force Adaption of Yellowstone Bison Management

LIVINGSTON, Mont. - The controversy surrounding Yellowstone
buffalo recently captured and set for slaughter in Montana illustrates
the need to revisit management of the biologically valuable Yellowstone
population, particularly in light of new national brucellosis
regulations. Movement of the Park's buffalo has been limited by
overblown fears that the animals might transmit the disease to domestic
cattle, which previously would have forced livestock producers to
eliminate their entire herd if any animals tested positive for the
disease. With the removal of heavy-handed brucellosis regulations, among
other changes, there is little justification for similarly heavy-handed
slaughter of buffalo straying outside the Park in search of food.

"I'm flabbergasted that the recent sweeping changes made to
the nation's brucellosis regulations by the Department of Agriculture
have not led to increased tolerance for bison outside the Park," said
Matt Skoglund, wildlife advocate for the Natural Resources Defense
Council in Livingston, Montana. "The draconian regulatory balloon
associated with brucellosis has been rightfully popped, and, as such,
it's time to do away with the haze, capture, test, and slaughter policy
for these iconic animals. At a time when all governments -- federal,
state, and local -- are looking to cut costs, we're needlessly wasting
tax dollars and giving Montana a big black eye along the way."

In the midst of heavy snows, the captured buffalo followed
their natural migration path into Montana in search of food. With little
tolerance for buffalo in Montana, the government unsuccessfully tried
hazing the animals back into the Park and later decided to capture
nearly 400 wandering buffalo, with those that test positive for exposure
to brucellosis slated to be sent to slaughter and the rest held in
captivity indefinitely.

Despite the extremely low risk of brucellosis transmission
from buffalo to cattle (something that's never been documented in the
wild), fear of the disease and the harsh regulatory burden it carried
have trumped buffalo conservation needs. However, as of last December,
in a game-changing development, federal rules regarding brucellosis have
been rightly eased so that:

  • Livestock producers are no longer required to slaughter
    their entire herd if one of their animals tests positive for
  • Under new regulations, the herd with infected animals must be quarantined and tested. Only infected animals are slaughtered.
  • States no longer automatically lose their brucellosis-free
    status if the disease shows up in two or more herds in a two-year

Five state and federal agencies and three tribal entities are
responsible for the "adaptive management" of Yellowstone's bison herds.
Per the plan that directs Yellowstone bison management, they are
required to change their strategies in response to conditions in the
area, though little has changed despite this recent sea change in the
regulatory landscape.

More information can be found on Skoglund's most recent blog entry on NRDC's Switchboard blog and Huffington Post:

More information on the brucellosis regulation changes at:


The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.

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