These comments are made on behalf of the Montana Cattlemen’s Association, a grassroots organization representing the interests of the men and women engaged in raising cattle, Montana’s largest industry. We strongly oppose changes in the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IMP) which would increase the numbers of bison in the park.
Climate experts confirm that the western part of North America is in the midst of the worse drought experienced over the past twelve centuries. This drought, which has already lasted twenty-two years, coincides with increased global warming, and does not have a predicted end. This is not the time for anyone, ranchers or park service, to increase their herds.
The fact that Yellowstone Park, by following the agreement made in the Inter-agency Management Plan, is experiencing a surplus of vegetation is proof that the IMP is working as intended. And the IMP is working on all levels. Brucellosis is being controlled; Native Americans benefit from the excess bison; the rangeland and riparian areas of the park are recovering from overgrazing; tourists are profiting from ample bison viewing opportunities in a beautiful setting; and finally, the businesses catering to tourism are thriving. This is evidence of complete success, so why change what is working?
The danger in increasing the number of bison in the park is that we do not know what the coming years will provide. The plain fact is that with increased numbers of bison coupled with an increased severity in the drought, the Park may very well find itself, once again, overstocked. This will cause environmental degradation and result in increased numbers of brucellosis infected bison moving out of the park. Very possibly, given increased numbers of bison, we will witness a huge death loss during the next severe winter. Something no one should wish.
Plainly, the Park will not have the ability to readjust bison numbers to a more sustainable level when increased numbers of bison prove to be unsustainable. Political outroar and lawsuits will prevent prudent and timely range and wildlife management. Most certainly, extremist groups will use every legal, and perhaps illegal, tactics to prevent rational management practices. They have done so in the past, and most certainly will in the future.
If over the coming years we find that the drought threat has receded, then that would be the appropriate time to consider increasing the numbers of bison in the park. Today, in the midst of a severe drought, is not the right time.
Gilles Stockton, MCA President