In a story that is surely stranger than fiction, taxpayers are paying for the slaughter of an enduring image of Western freedom -- the bison, to prop up the new image of the American West -- the welfare cowboy.
The story begins in Yellowstone National Park, the first in the world, and home to the oldest free roaming bison herd in the U.S. The problem starts when the bison leave their mountainous park habitat in the winter months and migrate into National Forest and other lands in Montana. Once in the publicly owned forestland, they sometimes intermingle with cattle, many of which are trucked to the site from as far away as Idaho or Great Falls, MT, over 200 miles to the north.
Despite the distance, it is economical to truck the cattle every year because livestock on these lands graze at a 91% federal subsidy. The federal government charges the bargain rate of $1.35 per animal unit month, as opposed to $15 charged for grazing on nearby private lands. The remainder of the costs to administer the grazing program are borne by taxpayers.
(The private land adjacent to Yellowstone and National Forest is owned by the Church Universal and Triumphant, a California based cult whose largely vegetarian membership subleases their grazing rights for beef production.)
The bison killings began when subsidy-dependent ranchers demanded that state and federal officials eliminate all bison that wander across the park line. Why? A disease called Brucellosis, which causes some female cattle to abort a single calf, but doesn't result in permanent reproductive failure, is present in a small number of bison.
Montana, which enjoys a "Brucellosis free" cattle designation, doesn't want the disease passed from bison to the cattle. An easy solution would be to pull the cattle out of the bison's winter range, or simply inoculate the cattle (a common practice in Wyoming).
Instead, armed patrols of government employees kill hundreds of bison as they leave Yellowstone, at a tremendous cost to taxpayers. In 1996 alone over 1,000 bison -- nearly a third of the entire Yellowstone herd -- were killed. Included in the slaughter were bulls and calves, which are unable to transmit the disease.
In fact, after 80 years of interactions between infected bison and cattle, there has never been a case of the disease being passed from one to the other. "Perhaps few things in life are risk free, but this one seems near," stated Dr. Paul Nicoletti, a professor of veterinary medicine and a leading expert on Brucellosis.
This frank assessment leads to questions about why the government is spending millions slaughtering wildlife to protect subsidized cattle that are exposed to little risk.
This simple logic has escaped the ranching interests and the federal and state bureaucrats that carry out the program. These same parties are now advocating construction of a $1 million bison quarantine facility. The idea is to keep the bison cooped up in livestock pens, fed and monitored at additional taxpayer expense, until they are certified disease free.
In other words, have taxpayers pay to herd and corral wildlife, while domestic cattle enjoy their subsidized home on the range.
For more information, contact Christian Sinderman at email@example.com .