Wednesday, February 26, 2014

If Bison Were Allowed To Be Wildlife When They Left The Yellowstone National Park...

Bison Transfer Agreements
Recently, there were a number of articles written on the Bison Transfer Agreements between the National Park Service and two Tribal organizations; the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation (CSKT). 

These Bison Transfer Agreements transfer live plains bison from Yellowstone National Park to the Tribal organizations for transport directly to slaughter facilities, the products of which become the property of the Tribal organization. 
ITBC Agreement
CSKT Agreement

Thanks to the Buffalo Field Campaign, these contracts were made known and circulated after the Nov. 2013 Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting. And thanks to the BFC, they have been ever vigilant, keeping a protective eye on our wild bison, alerting the public when they are in danger. Without the BFC, the majority of the public would not know the treatment of these iconic wild bison.I know that I could not be in the field witnessing what they do, without getting myself arrested, repeatedly. So I support them in any other way I can.

Everyone is in an uproar and I fully agree. We should not be capturing these treasured wild bison and sending them to slaughter. But, here is my thought -  instead of everyone venting all their outrage and frustration at the YNP, the stewards of this wildlife treasure, why don't we direct our collective energies to the real authors of this travesty - USDA's Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) and the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL)!

If you read the agreements, it states, "Pursuant to the Interagency Bison Management Plan signed by the federal government and the State of Montana in 2000, the abundance of Yellowstone bison is managed towards an end-of-winter guideline of 3,000 animals. The plan also directs actions such as vaccination and selective culling of animals to reduce brucellosis prevalence and lessen the risk of transmission from bison to cattle in Montana." The agreement explains that hunting (of those bison that exit the Park) has been a tool for this bison reduction, "but this tool has not been effective at reducing the prevalence of brucellosis in the population." This is why the "culling" is taking place and the agreements with the ITBC and the CSKT. 

Who is the real adversary of Bison?
So here's the necessary question - Who demanded the IBMP mandated end-of-winter guideline of 3,000 animals that Yellowstone National Park is forced to comply with? Reduction of brucellosis prevalence and lessening the risk of transmission from bison to cattle in Montana is an APHIS and DOL objective. Their real objective is the eradication of brucellosis in wildlife. IBMP Objective 4. Commit to the eventual elimination of brucellosis in bison and other wildlife (they're going after our elk now).

This DOL forced bison population number was evidenced by the Jan. 13, 2014 Board of Livestock meeting in Helena, where the DOL Board discussion and comments continued to center around reducing YNP bison numbers. Then, Executive Director Christian MacKay describes a history of conflict between YNP and the State of Montana, again, bringing up population management. "I see this as a potential to start getting at some of that conflict, start getting - We want this from you (repeated statements of low bison population numbers), you want this from us (expanded bison habitat in Montana - not an objective of the YNP committing some sort of National Park sprawl and taking over Montana). When you get to what we want, we can offer what we have."

 "Meanwhile, by 1994, the bison population peaked at 4,200 animals, the highest since the nineteenth century. At the same time, livestock and veterinary interests refocused on bison management and asserted their influence. The professional veterinary association, USAHA (United States Animal Health Association), that includes the Montana and many other state veterinarians as members, issued five brucellosis resolutions in 1995. One resolution stated the expectation that brucellosis and overpopulation of bison and elk threaten cattle. Together with the Western States Livestock Health Association, composed of seventeen Western state veterinarians, USAHA pressured APHIS to downgrade the status of states that allowed wild bison to roam after exposure to brucellosis. Even though USAHA is not an official policy-making body, it is respected enough to revoke Montana's status without a scientific or legal basis. The Montana state legislature also changed the primary authority for managing bison from DFWP to DOL - an agency with a mandate to 'protect the health and well-being of the livestock industry and economic well-being of ranchers' and without previous experience or responsibility in wildlife management. Thus the perspectives of livestock management became more influential in the management of wild bison that roam outside the Park and into Montana." - Finding Common Ground, pg. 135.

Wyoming Common Ground Letter
It took me 3 1/2 months of digging, and FOIA's, but I finally found the letter referenced in Christina Cromley's chapter, Bison Management in Greater Yellowstone -  Finding Common Ground. Thank you Wyoming State Archives!

Cromley's quote was, "Frustrated by the agencies' handling of the issue and believing their interests were not being addressed, a group of ranchers, conservationists, and hunters in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, wrote a letter to the Clinton administration in January 1997, in the midst of the crisis. They requested that APHIS stop threatening to downgrade the state's brucellosis-free status. Ranchers in Jackson Hole, they noted, had been running cattle next to bison for more than thirty years with no outbreaks of brucellosis...The most direct response by APHIS was to force Wyoming ranchers to submit to a station review of their brucellosis-control measures. The review involved thousands of dollars in brucellosis-testing costs for Wyoming ranchers. In February 1997, however, APHIS did respond positively to pressure from other federal agencies and the federal family meetings. It acknowledged that a state's brucellosis-free status cannot be revoked unless there is an uncontrolled outbreak of brucellosis. In other words, the mere presence of bison with brucellosis was no longer adequate grounds for APHIS to threaten or penalize a state's livestock producers. Nevertheless, Montana officials continue to haze, shoot, or capture and slaughter virtually all bison crossing into Montana." Finding Common Ground, pg. 138.

The RE: Brucellosis Management in Wyoming Letter was better than I hoped for.  Portions copied below.
"Over the years, the agriculture and conservation communities of Wyoming have worked to protect our open space while sustaining a robust ranching economy and maintaining viable wildlife populations on the land we all respect. We are joining forces now to demonstrate our continued commitment to these values and to urge you to redirect several brucellosis management proposals now before the public that we view as serious challenges to our shared values."

"First, we feel that if the rule changes set forth in the Federal Register become standard operating procedure, Wyoming's Brucellosis Free Status will be in immediate jeopardy, if these proposals are enacted, control of the world's largest population of free roaming bison will be essentially turned over to APHIS, a Federal agency who's operational expertise does not include wildlife management. Third, if these proposals are adopted, it will lead to the unnecessary killing of hundred, if not thousands of wild bison (and eventually elk)."

"We ask you to understand that the ranchers of this area are not asking for the measures proposed in the above mentioned documents and that they are not asking for the removal of wildlife from their public grazing areas. We ask you to understand that the conservation community is not asking that the ranchers remove their cattle from public wildlife range. We ask you to understand that the ranches of this area view the possibility of brucellosis transmission from wildlife to cattle to be so insignificant that it poses no real threat to their interests. Nor does the conservation community view brucellosis as a threat to wildlife populations. We ask you to understand that the real threat to our interests are the proposals originating from and/or driven by APHIS and the unfounded premise that brucellosis poses a real threat to man and beast.

"We urge you to concentrate your management efforts on non-lethal and non-invasive methods of minimizing the already insignificant risk of disease transmission rather than concentrating on the eradication of brucellosis via the lethal and costly methods now being proposed.

What is the potential brucellosis risk from wild bison?
"The estimated percentage of cattle exposure risk from the Yellowstone bison herd was small (0.0 - 0.3% of total risk) compared with elk which contributed 99.7 - 100% of the total risk" - A Risk Analysis of Brucella abortus Transmission Among Bison, Elk, and Cattle in the Northern Greater Yellowstone Area (2010), which Montana DoL's State Veterinarian, Dr. Marty Zaluski, was one of 7 authors on. - page 41. That 0.3% is not from a documented percentage, it is an academic safety net, just in case something ever happens. "To date, no documented transmission of brucellosis from Yellowstone bison to cattle has occurred." "The organizers' intent was that conclusions and recommendations from the panel would be considered by the National Park Service in decision-making on the potential implementation of future vaccination programs, and that the workshop report also would inform short- and long-term adaptive management decisions on and strategies for disease management activities associated with the IBMP." Brucellosis Science Review Workshop Panelists Report 2013.

For a long time, everyone just assumed it was the bison transmitting the livestock disease brucellosis back to the cattle, but the science of genetics has proved that it was the elk genotype that transmits to cattle. "Our results indicate that elk and cattle isolates are virtually identical genetically, differing by only one to two mutational steps. On the contrary, bison B. abortus differed from cattle and elk by 12-20 mutational steps."- DNA Genotyping Suggests that Recent Brucellosis Outbreaks in the Greater Yellowstone Area Originated from Elk, 2009. Molecular Epidemiology of Brucella abortus Isolates from Cattle, Elk, and Bison in the United States, 1998 to 2011, 2012.

 And of that 99.7-100% risk that elk will spread burcellosis to Montana's cattle - Dr. Marty Zaluski testified, "The chance that any one Montana animal is brucellosis positive is 0.00024%." 

APHIS & DOL Misdirection
This is not really a disease issue, it never has been. This has been a political issue, driven by APHIS and MT DOL. So long as politics, rather than the science of wildlife biology, dictates the terms, we will not see an end to this decades old travesty against these iconic bison and APHIS/DOL are already adding elk to the political slaughter. 

Recently, in his desperation to direct another point of attack against our wild bison, MT DOL's State Veterinarian, Dr. Marty Zaluski was quoted in a Reuters article, Montana livestock official favors bison hunting in Yellowstone. "A top Montana Department of Livestock official is pushing a proposal to allow hunting of bison inside Yellowstone National Park for the first time in its 142-year-old history to keep their numbers in check.
Marty Zaluski, Montana state veterinarian and member of a federal, state and tribal team that oversees bison in and around Yellowstone, said hunts in the park of the nation's last purebred herd of bison would lessen conflicts tied to their management."  "Zaluski said hunting of the animals inside the park would protect cattle that graze in Montana near Yellowstone and bring the 4,600-strong herd closer to the population target of 3,000 to 3,500. He said it would also lessen the public relations fallout tied to the slaughter of animals that leave the park. 'What I'm saying here is we have the potential to move this intractable issue forward. Hunting needs to be looked at more seriously as a possible solution,' Zaluski said."

A public relations fallout Zaluski does not want pointing to MT DOL! This is just another APHIS & DOL misdirection. Just as they have used the Native Americans to advocate for brucellosis eradication, being the recipients of these slaughtered and culled bison, they are now trying to bait the hunters (baiting is illegal in Montana) to clamor for the opportunity and apply pressure on the YNP to open up their gates to public hunting.

Thankfully, the Lacey Act of 1894, Chapter 72, Sec 4, referring to the Yellowstone National Park, states, "That all hunting, or the killing or wounding, or capturing at any time of any bird or wild animal, except dangerous animals, when it is necessary to prevent them from destroying human life or inflicting an injury, is prohibited within the limits of said park;" 

"Publicity surrounding the exploits and eventual capture of Edgar Howell, an infamous poacher from Cooke City, highlighted the absurd penalty he endured for killing one of only a few dozen buffalo left in Yellowstone: expulsion from the park. Public outrage at the lack of stiff punishment for Howell spurred the passage of the Lacey Act of 1894, which still provides penalties for harming the park’s wildlife and other 'natural curiosities or wonderful objects.' " - Change at park endures

Effecting Change
Throwing our collective energies against the Yellowstone National Park, when they are bound by the IBMP contract and cannot manage bison as wildlife, as all their other wildlife are, is like blaming the victim. We need to publicly give them a base of support to stand against these APHIS and DOL agenda's. If bison were allowed to be wildlife when they left the Yellowstone National Park and entered Montana, none of this would be happening!

If we focus our "Public outrage" against the real adversaries of our wildlife - APHIS and Montana's DOL, we can effect the change we want. Please contact the address at the bottom, to express your outrage at Montana refusing to treat wild bison as wildlife when they enter Montana, instead of diseased vermin to be slaughtered and dictating terms of 3000 herd objective in YNP. Petition  to Sue Masica, National Park Services, Intermountain Regional Director, to request the National Academy of Sciences conduct a scientific review of Wildlife Brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area. We need the science in our wildlife management, not politics and special interests.

Please contact:

Montana's Governor Steve Bullock, who is ultimately over the MT DOL. Governor Steve Bullock
Toll Free: 855-318-1330
FAX: 406-444-5529
Mail: Office of the Governor
PO Box 200801
Helena MT 59620-0801

Montana Policy Advisor for Natural Resources
Tim Baker 406-444-7857

Mt Department of Livestock
Christian MacKay, Executive Officer
(406) 444-9431

MT DOL State Veterinarian
Dr. Marty Zaluski 

APHIS IBMP representative
Dr. Don Herriott

Friday, February 21, 2014

What is the real cost to sportsmen and wildlife with the Elk Management in Areas With Brucellosis?

Elk in Park County

In 1946, Welch Brogan bought 12 elk, for $20.00 each, from the Yellowstone National Park. He put up tall fences on his Corwin Springs property in Park County, MT. Thus was born Cinnabar Game Farm and Welch Brogan became the father of modern-day elk farming.

Originally the elk resided on 14 acres of land. At its peak, the Cinnabar Game Farm housed 400 elk on 400 acres east of Highway 89, land abutting the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. According to a Missoulian article interviewing Brogan, in 30 years, he sold about 2,500 elk around the world. He also cut antlers in velvet off of live bulls, selling the velvet to the Orient.

Due to my research and concerns over the Park County rancher fencing modifications to the FWP elk brucellosis work plan, using FWP dollars to potentially pay for miles of 6-8 foot high wildlife proof fencing, I was relayed the history of Welch Brogan by the person who anonymously tipped off the FWP Game Warden in the late 80's, of Brogan baiting and capturing wild elk. This tip led to an investigation and subsequent charges against Brogan in 1989 of two counts of failing to maintain proper game farm fences and one count of capturing wild elk. Brogan fought the District Courts conviction, which the Montana Supreme Court upheld in 1995. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks began trying in 1993 to revoke his license, which in 1997, the Supreme Court agree should be revoked. Thus ended the Cinnabar Game Farm.

Ironically, those tall game farm fences, on land that Brogan owned, still holds captured wildlife - Yellowstone National Park bison . The land is in the a Brogan Limited Partnership, with the facilities being called the Brogan Bison Facility, leased by USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS), where they capture wild bison and experiment on them with the GonaCon immunocontraceptive to sterilize the wild bison. This sterility drug is also being studied for use on wild elk populations. This is another sordid research trail for another time.

There has been expressed concern of rancher harboring of wildlife before this recent rancher grab of sportsmens dollars for miles of 6-8 foot tall wildlife proof fencing. While the ranchers at the Park County meetings stated they wanted to exclude elk because of the brucellosis threat (which I addressed in a recent Guest Opinion which ran in a number of Montana papers), Park County is also a major draw for elk hunting. This elk harboring concern may have validity.

In Park County, from 2007-2012 - years when ranchers knew it was the elk genotype responsible for some brucellosis transmission - only 5 landowner elk Game Damage complaints were filed; 3 of those occurring in 2008. If Park Co. ranchers were concerned about elk, why did they not avail themselves of the tools available through FWP's Game Damage, which required public hunter access? Even before the Elk Management in Areas With Brucellosis was approved by the FWP Commissioners on Jan. 10, 2013, the requests for stack fencing and lethal removal “hunts” began rolling in from these ranchers. Since it's approval, there have been more Park Co. requests for stack fencing, hazing, elk kills than all previous years combined. Again, this elk brucellosis program operates outside of Montana Game Damage laws, which require public hunter access during the general season. This public hunter access helps to provide hunter pressure on private lands, encouraging the elk to seek other locations for habitat security, rather than private lands where they may not be wanted, except possibly during hunting season.

I saved the maps from this 2013 seasons Block Management. In Region 3, following HWY 89, south of Livingston, there was only one ranch that participated in Block Management, allowing public hunter access, in Park County and it was not one of these ranchers at the watershed working group. Yet, if you look at a map of Outfitters Leasing Private Lands, you see HWY 89, south of Livingston, littered with outfitter leases. This does not take into account any ranches that independently lease to hunters. Any cursory search online of elk hunting and Paradise Valley or Pray, MT reveals numerous ranches that are involved with elk hunting.

In 2013, an academic paper was published by FWP wildlife biologists, Effects of Hunter Access and Habitat Security on Elk HabitatSelection in Landscapes With a Public and Private Land Matrix, Proffitt et al. “We therefore assumed that although many private lands did permit some hunting opportunity and access (i.e., for family, friends or paying clients), the restricted hunting access and level of hunting risk was more similar to no access areas than areas that permitted public hunting access.” They also found, “Similar to the East Madison herd, during all study periods, Western Paradise Valley elk were less likely to occupy areas that permitted public hunting access, and this effect intensified during the rifle period.”

If hunting opportunity exists solely or disproportionately on public lands, hunting may selectively reduce numbers in the public land herd segment. If animals learn migratory and movement patterns as calves, over time this could result in the loss of the public land herd segment and limited private land hunts will not be effective in rebuilding the public lands segment of the herd over the short term. To rebuild the public segment of the herd over time, public lands hunting pressure may need to be reduced or eliminated while hunting pressure on private lands is increased, to affect differential mortality rates in different herd segments.” “Focusing harvest pressure on private lands currently restricting hunter access while limiting harvests on public lands may be an effective strategy for redistributing elk onto public lands in areas where elk distribution is focused on private lands with limited public hunting access.”

The FWP Game Damage program operates under Montana law, requiring public hunter access, established by scientific wildlife biology and management practices. Game Damage restricts lethal kills to Feb. 15th, because of the elk gestation period, which is more developed after that point. Public hunter access requirements helps to encourage elk on public lands, versus elk congregations on private lands. This Elk Management in Areas WithBrucellosis operates outside of Montana Game Damage laws, actually requires an Environmental Review,  allowing lethal removals to April 30th, currently requested to extend to May 15th, and no public hunter access requirement for any private land owner actions.

As in the case of elk game rancher Brogan, opening his gates on the tall wildlife proof fencing, baiting wild elk into the enclosure and shutting the gate behind them (against Montana law), it took a public witness reporting the act to a FWP Game Warden to put a stop to the practice. Should FWP Commissioners, once again pass another of these Elk Brucellosis proposals, we could be looking at FWP dollars paying for miles of private ranchers 6-8 foot tall wildlife obstructing fencing. Which would not only prohibit other normal wildlife passage, potentially, radically altering wildlife corridors in Park County, but also opening FWP up to lawsuits which will have to be paid for by more sportsmens dollars. I am already aware of two cases of private landowners who enjoy the migratory elk, not wanting a 6-8 foot tall fence bordering their property, that have expressed they would follow this legal course, if it comes to this. An additional question - could we also be looking at wildlife harboring violations? How is this going to be monitored for wildlife possession violations, especially during hunting season?

When I looked into fencing laws in the Montana Code Annotated, Title 81, which covers livestock, 81-4-101 thru 108 states, “Any one of the following, if not less than 44 inches or more than 48 inches in height, shall be a legal fence in the state of Montana: ” They go on to discuss barbed wire fences, corral fencing, stack fencing, but there is nothing involving miles of 6-8 foot tall pasture fencing for cattle. This brings up another question: What are the legalities of miles of 6-8 foot tall, wildlife obstructing pasture fencing around cattle in Montana?

With all of these issues, it begs the question, “What is the real cost to sportsmen and wildlife, with this Elk Management in Areas With Brucellosis program, going to be?”

Please contact by March 21, 2014, to object to the Park County rancher driven modifications to an already mismanaged elk brucellosis plan, operating outside of Montana elk management laws.

Kathryn QannaYahu
Enhancing Montana's Wildlife & Habitat

Saturday, February 15, 2014

FWP Commission to approve the beginnings of Park County Game Ranching?

6 foot tall fences, elk and private hunting parties?
I dont know what they call that here in Montana,
but back in Texas, we called it "Game Ranching".

On February 13, 2013, the FWP Commission tenatively approved the Park County Elk Brucellosis Working Group modifications to the 2014 Elk Work Plan. These modifications were supported by Helena FWP for adoption.

FWP Elk Brucellosis 2014 Work Plan Modifications in Park Co.

Please see page for complete information and contact information to submit public comments.

I have been documenting this elk brucellosis program since Nov. 2012. I have attended, audio recorded and transcribed the 3 Park County Working Group meetings so the public can see what the real objectives are.

There are proposed elk HD changes for this area supported by this group, on their private lands; wildlife prohibitive tall fencing by the miles, paid for with sportsmens dollars and again, no public hunter access required; extended kill permit and Elk Management Removal dates to May 15, including on DNRC public lands that they lease. They had objections to the DSA max quota of 250 Elk Management Removals.

This isnt about preventing the 0.00024% chance that a Montana cattle could possibly contract brucellosis from an elk. This is about depopulating, removing a forage competition ungulate from the landscape, sportsmens dollars subsidizing their Socialized Agriculture and game ranching.

They even had a 3rd recommendation to submit, do away with the Hunt Roster (not like they used it this last season, which is why they have never provided my requested information in my Public Information Request) “Use only Park County hunters for the EMR's (Elk Management Removals) and the kill permits. This is a local work plan, therefore utilizing local hunters would be a way to create relationships between hunters and landowners. These relationships could possibly result in the creation of additional hunting opportunities for future hunting seasons.”

There is also the question if any of these ranches have conservation easements on them for wintering. We have asked this question before and received no answer. In addition to trying to correct their repeated misunderstanding of brucellosis risk transmission to cattle, Dr. Mark Albrecht, DVM, also a member of the Statewide Elk Brucellosis Working Group, asked, “What about lands that are given up for conservation easements for wintering purposes? Thats private land, but it has also been paid for with a conservation easement. Mark Albrecht, Bozeman, Montana Statewide Elk Brucellosis Working Group. FWP just got raked over by Senator Brendan for double dipping...If youre going to start making all these exceptions, what about property thats got a conservation easement on it for wintering ground? Senator Brendan just was on Fish, Wildlife & Parks about paying for easements, then paying for access. So I think you might need to be careful on how that were to go...If youre hazing or shooting animals on property that had a conservation easement on it for winter ground, that would seem to be a conflict that you might want to address, to bring everyone together on that.”

Kathryn QannaYahu