For Immediate Release
Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Bison Killed in Annual Bison Range Roundup
Tribal Workers' Inability to Ride Horses Causes Safety and Management Headaches
WASHINGTON - Two bison had to be euthanized from injuries sustained in the annual
roundup at the National Bison Range, according to documents released
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In
the first year under a controversial delegation of control to a local
tribe of the iconic century-old national refuge in Montana, the fall
roundup was conducted for the first time using all-terrain vehicles
(ATVs) and a jeep rather than on horseback. Two ATVs also rolled over
during the roundup and one tribal worker was injured.
agreement which went into full effect in January 2009, the U.S.
Interior Department transferred operation of the entire National Bison
Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). A previous
agreement for joint operation of the Bison Range with the CSKT was
cancelled in late 2006 due to an array of performance-related issues on
the part of the Tribe, as well as reported harassment of federal refuge
employees by the CSKT.
Records obtained by PEER under the
Freedom of Information Act disclose that two bison had to be
euthanatized "from broken legs" in the annual roundup this past
October. One was a mature bull which had escaped from a loading chute
and the other "young bull was stacked in behind the chute and when
rearing caught his horns and nose a couple of times," according to an
e-mail from an agency veterinarian who concedes the roundup was not
formally monitored by federal officials. Citing extensive guidance
given to the CSKT, it concludes "To what degree your operation deviated
from that input I cannot say."
One persistent problem raised by
CSKT staff is their unfamiliarity with and trepidation about riding
horses, especially for herding bison, labeled the "the most dangerous
thing we do on the refuge" by one CSKT staff member in a memo. The memo
also expresses a concern about perception of "outside observers,"
noting: "There are a lot of factors that come into play when making
decisions about moving bison. One factor of concern is that people will
accuse us of not doing our jobs, or lacking the experience to do the
job (e.g. herd bison)."
"Future roundups may be even messier
once the bison figure out how easy it is to tip over an ATV," stated
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization, along with four
former Bison Range managers, a former Chief of the National Wildlife
Refuge System and a former Assistant Interior Secretary, as well as a
refuge employee whose job was displaced, is suing to invalidate the
delegation to the CSKT. "Skilled horsemanship had always been one of
the hallmarks of the National Bison Range."
A related issue is
injury to the horses on the refuge. For example, shortly after
purchasing four new horses for $13,824, three horses turned up lame. In
addition, PEER has received reports about problems ranging from
poaching to pesticide applications to proper fencing.
question is whether wildlife and wild lands are at greater risk under
this new arrangement," Ruch added. "Scrutiny is needed not only for the
sake of the Bison Range but also for the more than three-quarters of
the entire National Wildlife Refuge System and nearly 60 National
Parks, stretching from Redwood to Cape Cod National Seashore, that are
also eligible for tribal delegation agreements."
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.