By Tim Lundeen
The National Park Service has decided not to step up vaccination of bison in Yellowstone National Park.
NPS just released a final environmental impact statement on a brucellosis remote vaccination program for bison in the park, which has a long history of brucellosis problems in bison and elk.
NPS said has chosen the "No Action" alternative, which would continue the currently authorized syringe vaccination of bison calves and yearlings periodically captured at the northern boundary of the park.
The NPS said its action alternatives, which would have implemented a remote vaccination program, were dismissed because of substantial uncertainties over vaccine effectiveness and delivery, the cost of a 30-year program, potential impacts to wildlife behavior and the visitor experience and evaluation of public comments.
"We don't think it makes any sense to spend millions of taxpayer dollars and invest 30 years of effort in hopes of a small reduction in the prevalence of brucellosis in bison with no significant benefit to bison conservation," said Yellowstone National Park superintendent Dan Wenk. "The fact is that by working with our federal, state and tribal partners we have completely kept wild bison from infecting area livestock with brucellosis."
Brucellosis can cause pregnant cattle, elk and bison to abort their calves. Cattle brought this non-native disease to the region when pioneers settled the West. The disease was subsequently transmitted to local wildlife populations. Many bison and elk in the 28,000-square-mile Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have been exposed to the bacterium that causes brucellosis.
The preferred alternative is supported by the inclusive Interagency Bison Management Plan Citizen's Working Group, by several American Indian tribes, the Intertribal Buffalo Council and by the conclusions of a February 2013 Bison/Brucellosis Science panel composed of disease experts and organized by NPS and by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
The environmental study was prepared in response to a commitment the NPS made in 2000 as part of a court-mediated settlement between the federal government and the state of Montana that resulted in the creation of Interagency Bison Management Plan. Additional information and an electronic copy of the final EIS is available online.
The Montana Board of Livestock has weighed in on a draft environmental analysis regarding year-round tolerance of bison outside of Yellowstone National Park by initially endorsing the no-action alternative.
"We're keeping the door open but the board unanimously believes there are unanswered questions that need to be resolved before we can do anything other than support the no action alternative," said board chair Jan French, a cattle industry representative from Hobson, Mont.
Lundeen writes for Feedstuffs.